Authors: Wil Mara
Tags: #Christian, #Fiction, #FICTION / Christian / Suspense, #Suspense, #FICTION / Suspense, #Thrillers
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Copyright © 2013 by Wil Mara. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph of 8mm film roll copyright © Janaka Dharmasena/123rf Stock Photo. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph of texture copyright © Lost&Taken. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph of presidential motorcade copyright © Corbis. All rights reserved.
Back cover and interior photograph of Elm Street © Frank van den Bergh/iStockphoto. All rights reserved.
Designed by Ron Kaufmann
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from
The Holy Bible
, English Standard Version
), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Psalm 138:3, quoted in chapter 8, and all Scripture quotations in chapter 23 are taken from the Holy Bible,
New International Version
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.
Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
1 John 3:20, quoted in chapter 48, is taken from the
, King James Version.
is a work of fiction. Where real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales appear, they are used fictitiously. All other elements of the novel are drawn from the author’s imagination.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Dat
Frame 232 / Wil Mara.
— (Jason Hammond)
1. Family secrets
—Fiction. 2. Film archives
—Fiction. 3. Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
—Fiction. 4. Conspiracy theories
—Fiction. I. Title.
II. Title: Frame two hundred thirty-two.
ISBN 978-1-4143-8176-3 (hc)
ISBN 978-1-4143-5951-9 (sc)
ISBN 978-1-4143-8603-4 (ePub); ISBN 978-1-4143-8397-2 (Kindle); ISBN 978-1-4143-8604-1 (Apple)
Build: 2013-06-13 13:22:33
O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.
What a pity that the human animal is not able to put his moral thinking into practice.
And for Jan
YOU CAN’T WRITE
a book like this without help. As we are famous for saying here in New Jersey,
. So many good people gave freely of their time and talents, and I am deeply grateful to all of them.
First, there’s Peter Snell, who read through an embryonic story treatment in the spring of 2003 and made it clear with his characteristic diplomacy that I was a fool if I didn’t stick with it. Pete has since passed from this world to the next, and I miss him tremendously.
There’s my magnificent wife, Tracey, who carried on Pete’s faith with the occasional (but firm) “You know what story you should go back to? That Kennedy one.” Similarly, my children
—my girls, my treasure
—never lodged a single complaint concerning the time I had to invest in the research and writing process.
In 2008, I made the wise decision to submit the first draft of the manuscript to Tyndale, and there I found Jan and Jeremy
—as close to a pair of good angels as you’re likely to encounter on this mortal plane. They are, in every way, the perfect editors
—insightful, patient, and enthusiastic. Expanding
further into the Tyndale universe, I have encountered an abundance of support, cheerfulness, and professionalism.
Sincere and heartfelt thanks also go to Patti and Jane for reading earlier drafts and providing valuable criticism, and to Allison for discussing matters of faith that are at once so mysterious and so ridiculously obvious.
And of course, my undying gratitude to the Lord, not only for giving me this gift, but also for furnishing the opportunity to use it to further his glory.
THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION,
but the raw materials have been mined from the quarry of reality. Most of us know that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was gunned down on November 22, 1963, in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza and that former Marine and U.S. expatriate Lee Harvey Oswald would have been tried for the crime if not for his own shooting death at the hand of nightclub owner Jack Ruby two days later. We know that a group of seven civil servants, acting on behalf of succeeding president Lyndon Johnson and bearing the colloquial name of the Warren Commission, investigated the assassination and concluded that Oswald was the sole individual responsible for the president’s death. And we know that literally hundreds of conspiracy theories have been put forth in the decades since, attempting to contradict the commission’s findings.
But there are other truths that have escaped the notice of the general public, and the most pertinent to this book is that the Babushka Lady is a real person and not a figment of anyone’s imagination. She is one of only a handful of spectators within close proximity to the president’s limousine who
has yet to be identified. If you take the time to search the Internet, you will see her there, as plain as day. And in some images she appears to be holding a camera. Many assassination researchers believe it was the type that took motion pictures rather than stills and that she might have captured something no one else did. This could explain why she has made the choice to remain in the shadows. If that is indeed the case, then we can only speculate on what she witnessed that tragic day and, in all probability, has witnessed again, in private, in the years since.
22 November 1963
MARGARET BAKER FELT
more than a little foolish in her makeshift disguise
—an overcoat she’d found in a box of her late mother’s things, the prescription glasses she never wore, and a pink headscarf she’d borrowed from a friend. The coat and scarf were far too heavy for such a warm day. They made it
like she was in disguise. Everyone else in Dealey Plaza was dressed appropriately
—most of the men in shirtsleeves, the women in skirts of varying modesty. True, this was November. But this was also Dallas, where temperatures could easily reach into the seventies this time of year. The morning report said it would be in the high sixties at least, with a fair amount of humidity. Her heart sank when she heard this. But she had little choice in the matter. If someone recognized her . . .
It wasn’t her husband she was worried about. She hadn’t informed him of this little detour, but he wouldn’t mind one way or the other. He wasn’t particularly political, and he was about as even-tempered as a man could be. But Dr. Lomax was a different story. Being one of his receptionists had its perks, to be sure. The pay was decent, the hours comfortable, the office clean and neat, and the other girls were nice
enough. But Lomax could be a monster, demanding and unreasonable. And as a proud member of the John Birch Society, he loathed the Kennedys. Whenever the president came on the radio, Lomax would stop whatever he was doing and listen intently, his face reddening, then launch into a venomous rebuttal that often ended with him stomping off in a rage. When he heard JFK was coming to town, he muttered something about how nice it would be if Air Force One went down in a fiery blaze.
Margaret wasn’t sure what Lomax would do if he found out she had come here just to see the president, but it certainly wouldn’t be pleasant. She had lied to facilitate the opportunity, coming in for a few hours in the morning before claiming she didn’t feel well. Lomax didn’t like his employees taking time off regardless of the reason, and he was already in a foul mood, griping about the increased traffic and security in the area. She took this as a bad omen and shuddered. Nevertheless, she went into the ladies’ room of a department store a few doors down to put on the scarf and glasses. Ten minutes later she found a suitable position in the plaza, about thirty feet from Elm Street, and whispered a prayer that no one had recognized her along the way. The crowd wasn’t as thick as it had been along Main, but she was still within walking distance of the office. Too close for comfort, in her opinion.
These worries evaporated, at least temporarily, when the cheering on Main Street became noticeably louder.
she thought, and excitement swirled in her belly. She had liked Kennedy from the moment she first saw him, with his Ivy League good looks and boyish magnetism. The latter had been obvious even when she and her husband, Ron, watched the first-ever televised presidential debates on their grainy
Philco Admiral. Kennedy had the air of one who’d already been in the office for years, whereas challenger and former Eisenhower VP Richard Nixon bore the haggard mannerisms of a prisoner in an interrogation chamber. Beyond all that, however, Margaret believed Kennedy’s dedication to America was sincere and absolute and that in spite of his youthfulness
—which so many of his detractors considered a handicap
—he possessed the innate wisdom to handle the job. The way he had stared down that corpulent thug Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis had proved her right on that score, and Lomax’s begrudging silence on the matter provided a delightful bonus layer of confirmation.
As the crowd’s roar continued to rise, Margaret reached into the pocket of her overcoat and took out an 8mm Paillard Bolex. She hadn’t used it since she and Ron went to Galveston for his sister’s wedding. She’d bought a virgin reel earlier in the week and loaded it just before she left the house this morning.
The cheering reached a near-deafening pitch, and she switched the unit on. Looking right, she saw the motorcycle-flanked procession ease off Main and onto Houston. The lead vehicle was an ordinary white Ford with four occupants. She recognized the driver as Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, a familiar figure in the area who’d been on the force since the midthirties. She did not know the other three men, and they were instantly forgotten when Kennedy’s 1961 Lincoln Continental appeared a moment later, its two fender-mounted flags
—Stars and Stripes on the left, the presidential seal on the right
—flapping madly. There were three rows of seats, and she briefly registered Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie, in the middle. As soon as the president came into view, however, her eyes locked onto him. It was surreal to see the flesh-and-blood man in such close proximity. He
was smiling and waving in the afternoon sunshine.
The handsome young king among his subjects,
she thought. When he used his left hand to sweep his chestnut hair off his forehead in that familiar way, her heart jumped.
The limo turned left off Houston and started down Elm, rolling ever closer. She was aware of a near-hypnotic feeling of fulfillment, to the point where she was no longer conscious of the Bolex camera in her hand. She might not have remembered it until the president was long gone if not for a woman close to her shrieking, “Oh, oh, look at Jackie! Look how bea-
-tiful she is!”
Snapping out of the trance, Margaret brought the Bolex up and activated it. As she did, she noticed a man
—who would eventually be identified to the world as Abraham Zapruder
—standing on the pergola on the opposite side of Elm. He was holding a video camera, a Bell & Howell Zoomatic, and was aiming it at the approaching motorcade. Margaret kept the president and his wife in the center of the frame, remembering a tip she had learned from a photographer friend. She’d always had a steady hand and had been pleased with her film work in the past.
Between the sunlight and the unobstructed view,
this should come out really well.
The president faced her direction briefly, then turned to the crowd on the other side of the street. Margaret hoped more than anything he would turn back again. If he did, she decided, she would sacrifice a little camera stability and try to get his attention. He was known for making direct eye contact with people, often accompanied by a smile and a wave. If she got either from him . . . how incredible would that be? She’d be willing to blow her cover and tell Ron if that happened. He’d probably just laugh and shake his head, but it’d be worth it.
She continued to follow her subject through the lens, waiting for him to turn back, urging him to do so through sheer willpower. Then
A sharp, firecracker-type sound echoed through the plaza. The thought that it might be a gunshot did enter Margaret Baker’s mind, but the president didn’t seem to respond to it. Then came the second one, and this time his reaction was unmistakable
—through the tiny viewfinder she saw him raise his hands to his throat, his elbows sticking out like spearheads. At the same time, Governor Connally began sinking, jellylike, into his seat. Margaret froze, uncertain of what was happening, and the camera kept rolling. When the third shot arrived and the right side of the president’s head blew out in a gruesome cascade of bone and tissue, she gasped audibly.
She finally looked up, the camera still held in place, and witnessed something that would replay in her nightmares for weeks to come
—Jackie Kennedy, resplendent in her pink Chanel suit and matching pillbox hat, crawling on all fours across the trunk. Noticing the bloodstains on the First Lady’s midsection and the fact that the president was now a motionless figure slumped down in his seat, Margaret intuited through her horror what the rest of the world would soon come to know as truth
—that Jackie, in her shocked hysteria, was trying to retrieve parts of her husband’s brain and skull.
No . . . dear Lord, please. . . .
Margaret watched in wordless astonishment as one of the Secret Service agents forced Jackie back into the seat
with her dead husband. Then the limo’s engine roared as it picked up speed and zoomed off. In the remaining chaos, sirens blared and terrified people took off in every direction. Some dropped to the ground in case the gunman decided to expand the assassination into a random turkey shoot. Several adults were lying atop small children.
This can’t be happening,
a voice in Margaret’s mind insisted.
It just can’t be.
She wasn’t even aware that she had stopped filming and was now holding the camera slack against her thigh.
More police officers and Secret Service agents materialized. Some people came up alongside them and pointed to a spot high on the facade of the Texas School Book Depository, where the son of one of Margaret’s friends worked as a night custodian. She looked up and saw several open windows but nothing more.
“Come on! Don’t just stand there!” a man barked as he sped past. The crowd around her was migrating to the other side of Elm. Margaret began moving forward, barely aware her legs were in motion. Everything had become dreamy and muted, like being underwater.
What snapped her back to reality was the scatter of red spots on the macadam. The sight of John Kennedy’s blood, like paint flicked off a too-soaked brush, brought her to a halt. It glistened in the same afternoon sunshine that had projected an angelic light onto the president’s face just moments earlier.
She moved to avoid stepping in it and kept going.
Margaret’s home, a modest Victorian, was located in the quiet suburb of Addison. The house sat well back from the sidewalk and was partially obscured by a pair of massive oak trees.
She pattered up the front steps and worked the key into the door with hands that were still trembling. Once inside, she had no less trouble twisting the lock back into place
—an action she had performed thousands of times without difficulty. She tossed the keys onto a nearby table and continued up the carpeted steps to the second floor. One hand still clutched the wad of tissues she’d found in the glove compartment. They had dampened into a warm, solid mass. Her eyes were delicately swollen and thoroughly bloodshot, her makeup a disaster.
She strode past the second bedroom, currently reserved for guests but which would one day be transformed into a nursery, and went into the master bedroom. She removed the headscarf and glasses and set them down on the dresser, then shed the overcoat and laid it on the bed. She crossed the room and turned on the tiny portable television that was set on a rolling hard-wire stand. They only received five channels in this area, and two of them were snowy on the best of days. They were all broadcasting coverage of the shooting, which wasn’t surprising, and she twisted the knob to CBS because that’s where Cronkite would be. Like so many other members of Middle America, the Bakers never questioned the gospel according to Walter.
There was still part of her that harbored hope for a miracle. She knew what she had seen, but there was always that chance. She had analyzed the shooting in her mind and figured that such a young man could likely survive the first strike, the one that pierced his throat. Maybe it would permanently affect his speech; maybe he’d need some kind of medical equipment to assist with his breathing.
But that second strike, the one where his head . . . where it . . .
She erased these thoughts and trained her attention on
the little screen. Cronkite was there, sitting at his anchor’s desk in a white shirt and black tie, addressing the nation.
“. . . policemen called in on their day off because there were some fears and concerns in Dallas that, uh . . . that there might be demonstrations, at least, that could embarrass the president. Because it was only on October 24 that our ambassador of the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, was assaulted in Dallas leaving a dinner meeting there