Any book has a multitude of starting points. This one began on November 22, 1963, in the lunch hall of New Trier High School, in Winnetka, Illinois, where I got the news. I followed the events of the next three days with the concentration of any teenager whose world has just been rocked. And I followed the subsequent developments over time. It was the kind of thing that never went away.

I basically paused at each of the stations of the cross of assassination theory over the following forty-nine years. I believed the Warren Commission, then I believed Mark Lane and his compatriots (I never believed the secret surgery at Andrews Air Force Base, however; did anyone?), then I believed Posner and Bugliosi.

In my mind, it was pretty much settled history until John Carroll, the great editor of The Baltimore Sun, knowing I knew a thing or two about guns, asked me to cover Howard Donahue and the book Mortal Error, written about his theories, by Bonar Menninger. I met Howard, a Baltimorean through and through, I respected Howard, I liked Howard (who didn’t?); however, like Swagger, I found his explanation of the third bullet convincing but thought he went off into the wild blue yonder by ascribing it to a Secret Service agent with an AR-15 in a following car. It was hard to believe such a thing could happen in front of two thousand witnesses and nobody would see it.

Later in the process, Howard invited me to lunch. By that time he’d been pretty well fried in the press and was looking for a new method to illustrate his idea; he asked me to write a novel expressing his theory. I politely declined. I guess my subconscious, however, took up the challenge, and in a way, this is the book that Howard wanted me to write. To do it, I had to come up with my own theory about the second-rifle/third-bullet mystery.

Somewhere in all this – I can’t remember the exact chronology – I wrote a book called Point of Impact. It was inspired by the old Sun reporter Ralph Reppert’s earlier account of Howard’s theory in the Sun magazine. Howard had been one of the shooters in the tower at the H. P. White Ballistic lab in Maryland who took and hit the Oswald shots for CBS News’s re-creation. That was what started Howard on his odyssey.

I picked up on the idea of a marksman in a tower solving a shooting problem against a time clock and later realizing from the angles and the speed that he’d just reenacted the JFK assassination. I had to come up with a shooter, and so, with the help of Carlos Hathcock, I invented Bob Lee Swagger.

The idea was that the actual assassins were using Swagger in another hit, casting him in the role of Lee Harvey Oswald, to their infinite regret. As I progressed, I lost faith in my ability to bring it off, and I lost faith in conspiracy theories (I think Case Closed came out around then), so I ultimately kept Swagger but ditched JFK. At one point, I went through the manuscript and got rid of all the JFK references. Alas, I am by nature sloppy, so I missed many, and those accidental survivors later became the joinery between Point of Impact and this book. That’s how Hugh Meachum and Lon Scott came into it.

The most recent starting point was February 2011. I was writing a book called Soft Target and sitting around with my good pal Gary Goldberg in the living room. Somehow, the JFK assassination came up, and I performed my assassin-from-the-future routine, just as Richard does, and then I did riffs on the context of the Mannlicher-Carcano, the angles versus the proximity issue and several other subjects that I reuse in this book. We had a good old time, and I think there was hooch involved.

I said to Gary, “You know, maybe I ought to have Bob Lee Swagger solve the JFK conspiracy,” and we got a hearty laugh out of that one, and one second later, I thought, You know what? That’s a damn good idea. I ought to get Bob Lee Swagger to solve the JFK assassination.

The day after I finished Soft Target, I began The Third Bullet. It was a great ride, believe me. One of the best ever. Let me thank all those who pitched in.

First of all, Gary. He was with me from the start, and he became my researcher and contact with the world. He took care of all my computer glitches, dug up all the relevant WC testimony, found the new owners of Dal-Tex, and secured permission for me to go a-prowl in its mysterious (to me) insides. Gary even took over an eBay auction for me and got me the exact scope mount and Hollywood scope that LHO used. Gary was great.

Kathy Lally, who might be the basis of Kathy Reilly, put my wife and me up in Moscow and hauled us around with her husband, Will Englund. They are, jointly, the Washington Post correspondents in that most engaging city, as well as being old Sun alumni. In fact, Kathy invented my life back in 1982, when she prevailed on the debauched aristos who ran the Sun in those days to appoint me film critic. They probably wanted someone who would work for free.

My great friends and enthusiastic readers Lenne P. Miller, Bill Smart, Jay Carr, Jeff Weber, and Mike Hill were extremely supportive and enthusiastic. My editor at Simon & Schuster, Sarah Knight, was terrific and helped me reorganize the material into a more accessible form.

Barrett Tillman, the distinguished aviation and naval historian, was also an early reader and enthusiastic supporter. My good friend John Bainbridge returned to proofreading duties and, as usual, caught fifteen things I never would have.

Dave Emary, the brilliant technician at Hornady (he devised the 6.5 Creedmore) discussed Mannlicher-Carcano ballistics with me and revealed that he had come to a similar conclusion regarding the third bullet. He loaded a dummy .264 Win Mag/Carcano hybrid for me and sent it on with some other sample bullets doctored as we agreed the conspirators would have done them. I was introduced to Dave by Mark Keefe IV, the editor of American Rifleman.

My gun buddy Roger Troup also helped; it was under his auspices that we reloaded some .264 Win Mag/Carcano cartridges for real and tried them out in one of two pre-’64 Model 70s in that caliber I had bought for this project, by which we learned that not only was it feasible but the load produced excellent accuracy and velocity.

Through Roger, I met Bill Vanderpool, retired FBI Special Agent and firearms instructor. He patiently met with me and had many good ideas and contacts.

Dan Shea, the entrepreneur behind Small Arms Review and Long Mountain Outfitters of Henderson, Nevada, gave me counsel on suppressors circa 1963 and light machine guns circa 2012. I’m indebted to his wisdom and experience.

Also, Jeff Clemmer, of LWRC, the superb AR builder in Cambridge, Maryland, took me through the plant and coached me on the intricacies of the M-6s Blues 1-4 used in their unfortunate matchup with Swagger. I told him his guys were going to lose, but after all, they were up against Bob the Nailer! He was okay with that.

In Dallas, Scott W. Ehley, of International Capital, LLC, current owners of Dal-Tex, guided me through the building and answered my questions about its past. He was a very good guy to my enterprise, about which he knew nothing and which he took entirely on trust.

Dr. David Fowler, the chief medical examiner of Maryland and a good friend, gave me time and patience as he vetted my velocity-explosive theory of November 22, 1963. In the sci-fi tale that Richard tells Bob via Hugh’s instructions, the time travel/location in space is a last gift from my late and wonderful friend Bob Lopez. Vaya con Dios, amigo.

And, of course, my wife, Jean Marbella. I have no doubt she would go out to Idaho and sit in a diner for a month to persuade Bob Lee Swagger to investigate my death, exactly as her doppelg?nger does in this book. More to the point, she put up with my nutty enthusiasm, my purchase of four Mannlicher-Carcanos (it took that many to get one that would shoot!), my distraction, and my babbling on the subject of each new idea, and she made the coffee that got me going every single day, which may be why there’s so much coffee in this book. She did all this while pursuing her own extraordinary career at the Sun.

Of course, no blame for errors should attach to any of these fine people; I and I alone am responsible.

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