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KENNEDY MUST BE KILLED
By Chuck Helppie
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Chuck Helppie
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNovember 22, 1963 12:30 PM
I knew the moment I squeezed the trigger that something had gone wrong.
The recoil of the rifle didn't deliver the customary hard, crisp jolt to my shoulder. The sound was dirty and muffled. I immediately knew from all the hours I had spent practicing that something wasn't right.
A fraction of a second later, I saw what I had just felt.
He was still alive.
The voice in my radio earpiece screamed, "Green light! Green light!" Out of the lower left corner of my non-shooting eye, I could see the motion down on the curb. The open, black umbrella mechanically pumped up and down in our prearranged signal.
He was still alive.
Through my telescopic sight, I saw both of his hands turn into fists as his arms flew up to protect his throat-my bullet's errant trajectory apparently caught him in the Adam's apple. A range of emotions swept over his face-he didn't know what the hell had hit him.
His survival instinct kicked into motion. He was having trouble breathing. He was alive for now, but he was doomed.
I calmly and quickly racked another round into the bolt-action chamber of my rifle. I again reacquired my target through the precision gun-sight. The head of the man sitting in front briefly blocked my view when he turned toward the commotion in the backseat. Instantly, a fusillade of bullets from Lucien and Ruger cut down the momentary obstruction-flinging him into his wife's lap and out of my way.
I heard the anxious "Green light! Green light!" as I searched to place my target's face in my crosshairs.
I felt a reassuring pat on my shoulder by my spotter, who kept his eyes pealed for anyone who might have observed us. He undoubtedly felt time was running out, but for me, time was standing still. My target was still alive-I had a job to finish.
The first shot I squeezed off had to have been a misfire. It wasn't my aim; I knew that. The sabot must have had a bad powder charge or had been incorrectly loaded in its firing sleeve. I knew that such an error wouldn't occur again-the second bullet in my chamber was a full-charge cartridge without a sabot.
I had meticulously used Lucien's jewelers saw to cut a small 'x' into the tip of all my bullets. That tiny 'x' would insure that the bullets would fragment immediately upon impact. The result would be a devastating wound.
It had to be. We were to kill him.
I watched through the optical precision of the expensive Zeiss gun-sight as the big 1961 Lincoln convertible parade limousine came to a halt directly in front of me. I brought my crosshairs to bear, centering upon his right eye in my sight. He was barely ninety feet away-so close that I felt I could reach out and touch him. I smiled to myself and thought: Jesus, he's no farther away than the first baseman would be if I were throwing a double-play ball from second base. Instead, I was delivering a bullet at over 2,000 feet per second at a distance of ninety feet. It would get there pretty damn fast and pretty damn hard.
I paused to study the familiar face in my sight. Fear had clearly taken hold of him. He knew he was helpless-sheer panic enveloped his face. I had prepared myself for any possible equipment failure or operational disruption-but I had never thought about how I would feel as I completed my assigned task.
"Green light! Green light!" The voice in my earpiece persistently chanted. That was fine-it was his job to call out as long as our man was still alive. It was an annoying reminder of my team's combined failure up to this point.
Roscoe's breath panted in my ear. "Come on, Patrick. You can do it." His voice rose at the end with coiled tension. The crowd below had begun to panic, but I was completely at ease.
His eyes wildly swept his surroundings; then, they locked onto mine through the telescopic gun-sight. I felt my adrenaline surge. Experienced shooters had warned me that seeing the eyes of my victim would shock the hell out of me.
I'd never shot a man before.
I knew that he couldn't see my eyes, but I sure couldn't miss his. His eyes frantically searched for answers.
"Goodbye, Jack!" I whispered, squeezing the trigger gently a second time. This time the rifle's recoil felt crisp and firm as it kicked back into my braced right shoulder. I saw my bullet's impact instantly. I was so close to where he sat-upright, wounded, vulnerable, and frozen in shock.
The full force of my shot took off the top of his head. I saw it explode in a pink cloud of blood, brain matter, scalp, vaporized skull bone, and gristle. There was no question about it. He was dead now.
The voice in my earpiece shouted, "Red Light! Red Light! Red Light! Red Light! Red!" I tore the annoyance out of my ear. The umbrella man on the sidewalk signaled that the President was dead. Our ambush had worked as planned.
I withdrew the rifle from the top of the slats of the white picket fencing and handed it to my spotter, Roscoe. He threw it into the open trunk of the sedan parked directly behind me.
I saw Jackie desperately try to crawl across the Lincoln's broad trunk only to be shoved back into her seat by a Secret Service agent who threw himself on top of her to protect her as he was trained to do. It hadn't registered with me that she had been sitting next to Jack the entire time
I solemnly watched the big Presidential limousine accelerate out of Dealey Plaza-its wounded occupants slumped in their seats. I turned away as the rest of the presidential motorcade raced underneath the triple underpass in a panicked pursuit of the President's car.
Roscoe adjusted his Dallas police uniform and drew his service revolver out of his holster. I pulled my fake Secret Service credentials out of my pocket and held them in my clenched fist, ready for display.
We descended into the horrified crowd, pretending to be just as shocked and alarmed.
It was how we had planned our escape. It was hard, however, not to be too elated-our plan had worked.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was dead.
Chapter TwoSEPTEMBER 6, 1978 6:07 p.m.
"Welcome to my nightmare. I know you're gonna like it. I know you're gonna feel like you belong."
The ominous tone of Alice Cooper's song struck me to my core. The irony of the lyrics sent goose bumps up and down my arms. Welcome to my nightmare, I thought to myself.
The crackling static from speakers in the dirty dashboard almost ruined the song. I wanted to sing out loud, but I didn't think my cab driver would appreciate my vocal styling. What the hell-I'm paying for the ride. The name on his cabbie license read Waylon Thibodeaux.
"Hey, Waylon, can you turn up that song?" I asked.
He cut his eyes at me in the rear view mirror, nodded and complied. He bristled just a little when I said his name. Most cab drivers are pretty talkative, but this one hadn't said a word the whole way from the airport.
His black, short-brimmed cowboy hat steadfastly pointed straight ahead. His dark beard was closely cropped, but his black hair hung in a wild tangled mess down past the blue collar of his shirt. An earring, a tiny silver cross with two tiny feathers, hung from his right ear. Most men would look kind of effeminate dressed like that, but on this guy, it actually looked good.
Mardi Gras beads and trinkets hung from his rear-view mirror and the plastic Jesus on the dashboard competed with a gris-gris bag, sundry voodoo feathers and bones. A family picture was fastened to the driver's sun visor by multiple and multi-colored rubber bands-probably his wife and kids. The wife was a pretty brunette, and the two kids were equally good-looking. It appeared that they had posed for the picture in front of their local church.
"I didn't pronounce it right, did I?"
I saw his dark eyes shift from the road ahead to the rear view mirror. "No sir, ya d'ent," he softly verified.
"Hey, I'm a Yankee. What do you expect?" I joked.
His eyes cracked a smile. "That's OK, sir. It's not an easy name to pronounce for y'all, anyway."
"I apologize, Waylon." I pronounced his name WAY-lynn, just like the country singer, Waylon Jennings. "I have to remember that whenever I get back down here to N'Awlins, Loozeeanna, I've got to be careful to speak properly."
My pronunciation of New Orleans, Louisiana broke the ice. Most out-of-towners ignorantly and blithely butchered the pronunciation as New Ore-Leenz, Lou-wee-zee-Anna. It must sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to the locals. A good friend had once corrected me, "The state is named after King Louis of France-not King Lou-wee-zee. Pronounce it right, bon ami."
A big grin split his face as he turned to look at me. "Now," he sighed, "dat sounds a lot better."
I decided to make amends, "I'm sorry I didn't pronounce your name right. Can I try again? How do you pronounce your name?"
Now I could see the brilliant white of his teeth, framed impressively by his dark black beard. "It's pronounced Way-LAWN, Way-LAWN Tib-a-DOE." The rich French accent gave a lilt to his voice that was marvelous to hear, reflecting a deep Cajun family background.
I repeated it as carefully as I could back to him, "WAY-LONE TIB-A-DOE."
This time, he didn't wince, but nodded his satisfaction with a big smile.
Like any good cab driver, he dutifully asked, "Why ya here?"
"Laissez les bon temps rouler," I replied. My French sucked, but I loved the way that particular phrase rolled off my tongue. It's the motto of this old city and it means, "Let the good times roll." Laissez les bon temps rouler.
He bobbed his head in a sort of rhythm as if he were both agreeing with me and getting into the mood himself. "Ya got that right! What's ya name?"
"It's an old Irish name, Waylon," I replied. "It's Patrick, Patrick McCarthy." As soon as I blurted it out, I winced. Damn it! I had just violated one of my long-time safety tenets. But it didn't matter. Nothing really mattered now.
"Nice to meet ya, Patrick," he smiled broadly once more. "Well, when ya get ready to leave, ya call me and I come pick ya up." He reached over the back seat and gave me a slip of paper with his telephone number.
I tried to mask my sudden nervousness by smiling. "Sure thing," I murmured. I hoped he wouldn't try too hard to remember me.
His entire mood had lifted dramatically in just the past few minutes. "Hey, Patrick, ya mind if I change the music? I's got's ta git cha in the groove for ya visit." His patois deepened just for me.
My song had long since ended. Some sickening song played instead. "Please-be my guest. I've never liked disco."
He fooled with the radio dial until he found a suitable station. I recognized the distinctive fiddle and washboard percussion of a familiar Cajun tune.
"Is that Ce N'Est Pas Comme D'Habitude?" I asked.
Waylon spun around in his seat to look at me, "Ah, this one ya know?"
"Yeah," I said wistfully, "I do. In English, it means It's Not Like It Used To Be-right?"
"Datz right." He sang along with the song as I sat back and enjoyed the ride. His voice was beautiful rich baritone.
"You've got a good voice-you ought to sing in a band."
He gave me yet another big grin, "Ah do-Ah've got a band, me."
"Where did you learn to play?"
"Ah grew up down the bayou in Houma."
He pronounced "bayou" By-OH, not By-YOU like the tourists did.
"My Paw-Paw taught me to fiddle when Ah's real little. Fiddlin's my real job; taxi drivin' is my hobby," he laughed at his joke. "Ya see me fiddle on Fr'day and Sat'day nights-some little clubs down in the Quarter."
"I should come see you play."
"Ya should. I'll play ya that tune there, the one ya know."
"I'd like that."
"Ya call me-have a good time, two-step, hear good music ..."
Waylon chattered away in the front seat. I suddenly felt overwhelmed with sadness-I hadn't come to New Orleans to party. I had quite possibly come here to die. The Big Easy attracted those people weak in character like moths to a flame, and I was, sadly, no exception.
I inhaled the distinctive aroma of the city as we rolled into the French Quarter, heading toward the warehouse district down by the river. The air was uncomfortably hot and thick-it poured through the open windows, humid and heavy with a mixture of odors that I think is unique to the French Quarter. The air had a sour smell-human sweat tinged with beer and alcohol-mold and moss-and sewage. New Orleans' sewage had fermented for about two hundred years just below the surface of the dirty and sticky pavement around Bourbon Street. On hot, sultry days, it's close enough to the surface to evaporate into the near-tropical air. There, it lingers and clings to all those who breathe it in. I've been in the jungles of Southeast Asia and some of the worst hovels of Iran, Guatemala, Cuba-I've never quite smelled the same combination of odors.
The taxi deftly maneuvered its way through the crowded and narrow streets until it braked to a halt in front of a dirty brown three-story building, tucked in among some larger boarded-up edifices. A sloppily hand-painted white sign with big blue faded letters announced Little Rose Perpetual Mission and Salvation Hall.
"Dis? De place?" Waylon looked in the rearview mirror. I nodded.
The taxi scraped the curb close to where a slightly built man slowly and meticulously swept the sidewalk. A black beret sat atop his grayish hair, covered in pins, feathers, and small voodoo trinkets, and a small ponytail peeked coyly out of the back. His blue denim work shirt had the sleeves rolled up. His khaki-colored trousers hung well over his worn reddish-brown Red Wing work boots.
Waylon leaped from the driver's seat deftly moving to retrieve my olive green duffel bag from the trunk. I saw that my driver was smaller in stature than I had realized, but he was stout and broad with a combination of muscles and a sizeable paunch.
The man in the beret paused in his work to see who had stopped at his doorstep.
I knew my long-time friend, known locally as "The Preacher," would welcome me without question.
"Behold a pale horse," he murmured when recognizing me emerge from the back seat of the taxicab.
"And his name that sat on him was Death. And Hell followed with him."
Chapter ThreeSEPTEMBER 6, 1978 7:14 p.m.
My old friend was not happy to see me.
He stood, the broom propped under his chin, both hands tightly gripping its handle. He shifted his weight, pushed back his beret and cocked his head in my direction. He stood frozen as I approached him with my worn canvas duffel bag slung over my shoulder.
"This is bad ju-ju. I can just feel it."
"Why do you have to look at life so pessimistically?" I asked, extending my hand.
His face broke open into a broad smile, "Because you are a big factor in the reason why my life has turned out so miserably." He ignored my proffered hand and threw his arms around me in a big warm bear hug. "Patrick McCarthy! What the fuck are you doing here in the Big Easy? Why didn't you let me know you were coming?"
His worn and dirty black beret scratched my chin as he tightened his grip around my waist. His shirt smelled musty and felt damp from his sweat in the high heat and humidity of the late summer afternoon. His forearms were slick with beads of perspiration.
"I knew I would get a warm welcome from the Preacher." I returned his hug with a strong squeeze of my own.
He briefly grunted and howled in pain as I did so, "Hey, not so hard. These old bones cannot take that rough stuff no more," he complained in mock seriousness.
"Don't tell me you're getting old," I teased.
"Hell no, I ain't gittin' old. It's those damn mattresses here in the mission. They've got me down in my back."
I was skeptical of his excuse. "The mattresses are bad? Or is it all the mattress dancing that you've been doing with the ladies of the night?"
He shook his head and guffawed. "I do like my ladies," he admitted with a laugh.
I laughed in return, "And I bet they love your money."
His pale face turned serious for a moment. "I don't have to pay for that," he said.
"Yeah, I heard they've been giving it away for free recently. That's gonna make New Orleans pretty popular with the convention trade."
He cracked a big grin letting out a loud, growling laugh. "Hey! That's a good one!" He turned his palms skyward in a gesture of surrender and conceded, "I might tip them generously, but I never have to pay them."
"And I suppose that the money comes from your collection plate?"
"The Lord works in mysterious ways. You know that."
"Are you saving their souls with a little laying of the palms?"
Excerpted from KENNEDY MUST BE KILLED by Chuck Helppie Copyright © 2009 by Chuck Helppie. Excerpted by permission.
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