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I was fascinated. The Russian emigre community had found the girl-woman who would become their darling. How could she be anything else? She was young, she was a stranger in a strange land, she was beautiful. Of course, beauty happened to be married to the beast--a surly young American who hit her (bad), and who believed passionately in a system these upper-middle-class folks had just as passionately rejected (far worse).

  Yet Lee would accept their groceries with only occasional outbursts of temper, and when they came with furnishings--a new bed, a bright pink crib for the baby--he accepted these, too. He hoped the Russians would get him out of the hole he was in. But he didn't like them, and by the time he moved his family to Dallas in November of '62, he must have known his feelings were heartily reciprocated. Why would they like him, he must have thought. He was ideologically pure. They were cowards who had abandoned Mother Russia when she was on her knees in '43, who had licked the Germans' jackboots and then fled to the United States when the war was over, quickly embracing the American Way . . . which to Oswald meant saber-rattling, minority-oppressing, worker-exploiting crypto-fascism.

  Some of this I knew from Al's notes. Most of it I saw played out on the stage across the street, or deduced from the only important conversation my lamp-bug picked up and recorded.


  On the evening of August twenty-fifth, a Saturday, Marina dolled up in a pretty blue dress and popped June into a corduroy romper with appliqued flowers on the front. Lee, looking sour, emerged from the bedroom in what had to be his only suit. It was a moderately hilarious wool box that could only have been made in Russia. It was a hot night, and I imagined he would be wringing with sweat before it was over. They walked carefully down the porch steps (the bad one still hadn't been fixed) and set off for the bus stop. I got into my car and drove up to the corner of Mercedes Street and Winscott Road. I could see them standing by the telephone pole with its white-painted stripe, arguing. Big surprise there. The bus came. The Oswalds got on. I followed, just as I had followed Frank Dunning in Derry.

  History repeats itself is another way of saying the past harmonizes.

  They got off the bus in a residential neighborhood on the north side of Dallas. I parked and watched them walk down to a small but handsome fieldstone-and-timber Tudor house. The carriage lamps at the end of the walk glowed softly in the dusk. There was no crabgrass on this lawn. Everything about the place shouted America works! Marina led the way to the house with the baby in her arms, Lee lagging slightly behind, looking lost in his double-breasted jacket, which swung almost to the backs of his knees.

  Marina pushed Lee in front of her and pointed at the bell. He rang it. Peter Gregory and his son came out, and when June put her arms out to Paul, the young man laughed and took her. Lee's mouth twitched downward when he saw this.

  Another man came out. I recognized him from the group that had arrived on the day of Paul Gregory's first language lesson, and he had been back to the Oswald place three or four times since, bringing groceries, toys for June, or both. I was pretty sure his name was George Bouhe (yes, another George, the past harmonizes in all sorts of ways), and although he was pushing sixty, I had an idea he was seriously crushing on Marina.

  According to the short-order cook who'd gotten me into this, Bouhe was the one who persuaded Peter Gregory to throw the get-acquainted party. George de Mohrenschildt wasn't there, but he'd hear about it shortly thereafter. Bouhe would tell de Mohrenschildt about the Oswalds and their peculiar marriage. He would also tell de Mohrenschildt that Lee Oswald had made a scene at the party, praising socialism and the Russian collectives. The young man strikes me as crazy, Bouhe would say. De Mohrenschildt, a lifelong connoisseur of crazy, would decide he had to meet this odd couple for himself.

  Why did Oswald blow his top at Peter Gregory's party, offending the well-meaning expats who might otherwise have helped him? I didn't know for sure, but I had a pretty good idea. There's Marina, charming them all (especially the men) in her blue dress. There's June, pretty as a Woolworth's baby picture in her charity jumper with the sewn-on flowers. And there's Lee, sweating in his ugly suit. He's keeping up with the rapid ebb and flow of Russian better than young Paul Gregory, but in the end, he's still left behind. It must have infuriated him to have to kowtow to these people, and to eat their salt. I hope it did. I hope it hurt.

  I didn't linger. What I cared about was de Mohrenschildt, the next link in the chain. He would arrive onstage soon. Meanwhile, all three Oswalds were finally out of 2703, and would be until at least ten o'clock. Given that the following day was Sunday, maybe even later.

  I drove back to activate the bug in their living room.


  Mercedes Street was partying hearty that Saturday night, but the field behind chez Oswald was silent and deserted. I thought my key would work on the back door as well as the front, but that was a theory I never had to test, because the back door was unlocked. During my time in Fort Worth, I never once used the key I'd purchased from Ivy Templeton. Life is full of ironies.

  The place was heartbreakingly neat. The high chair had been placed between the parents' seats at the little table in the kitchen where they took their meals, the tray wiped gleaming-clean. The same was true of the peeling surface of the counter and the sink with its rusty hard-water ring. I made a bet with myself that Marina would have left Rosette's jumper-clad girls and went into what was now June's room to check. I had brought a penlight and shined it around the walls. Yes, they were still there, although in the dark they were more ghostly than cheerful. June probably looked at them as she lay in her crib, sucking her bokkie. I wondered if she would remember them later, on some deep level of her mind. Crayola ghost-girls.

  Jimla, I thought for no reason at all, and shivered.

  I moved the bureau, attached the tapwire to the lamp's plug, and fed it through the hole I'd drilled in the wall. All fine, but then I had a bad moment. Very bad. When I moved the bureau back into place, it bumped against the wall and the Leaning Lamp of Pisa toppled.

  If I'd had time to think, I would have frozen in place and the damn thing would have shattered on the floor. Then what? Remove the bug and leave the pieces? Hope they'd accept the idea that the lamp, unsteady to begin with, had fallen on its own? Most people would buy that, but most people don't have reason to be paranoid about the FBI. Lee might find the hole I'd drilled in the wall. If he did, the butterfly would spread its wings.

  But I didn't have time to think. I reached out and caught the lamp on the way down. Then I just stood there, holding it and shaking. It was hot as an oven in the little house, and I could smell the stink of my own sweat. Would they smell it when they came back? How could they not?

  I wondered if I were mad. Surely the smart thing would be to remove the bug . . . and then remove myself. I could reconnect with Oswald on April tenth of next year, watch him try to assassinate General Edwin Walker, and if he was on his own, I could then kill him just as I had Frank Dunning. KISS, as they say in Christy's AA meetings; keep it simple, stupid. Why in God's name was I fucking with a bugged thriftshop lamp when the future of the world was at stake?

  It was Al Templeton who answered. You're here because the window of uncertainty is still open. You're here because if George de Mohrenschildt is more than he appears, then maybe Oswald wasn't the one. You're here to save Kennedy, and making sure starts now. So put that fucking lamp back where it belongs.

  I put the lamp back where it belonged, although its unsteadiness worried me. What if Lee knocked it off the bureau himself, and saw the bug inside when the ceramic base shattered? For that matter, what if Lee and de Mohrenschildt conversed in this room, but with the lamp off and in tones too low for my long-distance mike to pick up? Then it all would have been for nothing.

  You'll never make an omelet thinking that way, buddy.

  What convinced me was the thought of Sadie. I loved her and she loved me--at least she had--and I'd thrown that away to come here to this shitty street. And by Christ, I wasn't going to
leave without at least trying to hear what George de Mohrenschildt had to say for himself.

  I slipped through the back door, and with the penlight clamped in my teeth, connected the tapwire to the tape recorder. I slid the recorder into a rusty Crisco can to protect it from the elements, then concealed it in the little nest of bricks and boards I had already prepared.

  Then I went back to my own shitty little house on that shitty little street and began to wait.


  They never used the lamp until it got almost too dark to see. Saving on the electricity bill, I suppose. Besides, Lee was a workingman. He went to bed early, and she went when he did. The first time I checked the tape, what I had was mostly Russian--and draggy Russian at that, given the super-slow speed of the recorder. If Marina tried out her English vocabulary, Lee would reprimand her. Nevertheless, he sometimes spoke to June in English if the baby was fussy, always in low, soothing tones. Sometimes he even sang to her. The super-slow recordings made him sound like an orc trying its hand at "Rockabye, Baby."

  Twice I heard him hit Marina, and the second time, Russian wasn't good enough to express his rage. "You worthless, nagging cunt! I guess maybe my ma was right about you!" This was followed by the slam of a door, and the sound of Marina crying. It cut out abruptly as she turned off the lamp.

  On the evening of September fourth, I saw a kid, thirteen or so, come to the Oswalds' door with a canvas sack over his shoulder. Lee, barefoot and dressed in a tee-shirt and jeans, opened up. They spoke. Lee invited him inside. They spoke some more. At one point Lee picked up a book and showed it to the kid, who looked at it dubiously. There was no chance of using the directional mike, because the weather had turned cool and the windows over there were shut. But the Leaning Lamp of Pisa was on, and when I retrieved the second tape late the following night, I was treated to an amusing conversation. By the third time I played it, I hardly heard the slow drag of the voices.

  The kid was selling subscriptions to a newspaper--or maybe it was a magazine--called Grit. He informed the Oswalds that it had all sorts of interesting stuff the New York papers couldn't be bothered with (he labeled this "country news"), plus sports and gardening tips. It also had what he called "fiction stories" and comic strips. "You won't get Dixie Dugan in the Times Herald," he informed them. "My mama loves Dixie."

  "Well son, that's fine," Lee said. "You're quite the little businessman, aren't you?"

  "Uh . . . yessir?"

  "Tell me how much you make."

  "I don't get but four cents on every dime, but that ain't the big thing, sir. Mostly what I like is the prizes. They're way better than the ones you get selling Cloverine Salve. Nuts to that! I goan get me a .22! My dad said I could have it."

  "Son, do you know you're being exploited?"


  "They take the dimes. You get pennies and the promise of a rifle."

  "Lee, he nice boy," Marina said. "Be nice. Leave alone."

  Lee ignored her. "You need to know what's in this book, son. Can you read what's on the front?"

  "Oh, yessir. It says The Condition of the Working Class, by Fried-rik . . . Ing-gulls?"

  "Engels. It's all about what happens to boys who think they're going to wind up millionaires by selling stuff door-to-door."

  "I don't want to be no millionaire," the boy objected. "I just want a .22 so I can plink rats at the dump like my friend Hank."

  "You make pennies selling their newspapers; they make dollars selling your sweat, and the sweat of a million boys like you. The free market isn't free. You need to educate yourself, son. I did, and I started when I was just your age."

  Lee gave the Grit newsboy a ten-minute lecture on the evils of capitalism, complete with choice quotes from Karl Marx. The boy listened patiently, then asked: "So you goan buy a sup-scription?"

  "Son, have you listened to a single word I've said?"


  "Then you should know that this system has stolen from me just as it's stealing from you and your family."

  "You broke? Why didn't you say so?"

  "What I've been trying to do is explain to you why I'm broke."

  "Well, gol-lee! I could've tried three more houses, but now I have to go home because it's almost my curfew!"

  "Good luck," Marina said.

  The front door squalled open on its old hinges, then rattled shut (it was too tired to thump). There was a long silence. Then Lee said, in a flat voice: "You see. That's what we're up against."

  Not long after, the lamp went out.


  My new phone stayed mostly silent. Deke called once--one of those quick howya doin duty-calls--but that was all. I told myself I couldn't expect more. School was back in, and the first few weeks were always harum-scarum. Deke was busy because Miz Ellie had unretired him. He told me that, after some grumbling, he had allowed her to put his name on the substitute list. Ellie wasn't calling because she had five thousand things to do and probably five hundred little brushfires to put out.

  I realized only after Deke hung up that he hadn't mentioned Sadie . . . and two nights after Lee's lecture to the newsboy, I decided I had to talk to her. I had to hear her voice, even if all she had to say was Please don't call me, George, it's over.

  As I reached for the phone, it rang. I picked it up and said--with complete certainty: "Hello, Sadie. Hello, honey."


  There was a moment of silence long enough for me to think I had been wrong after all, that someone was going to say I'm not Sadie, I'm just some putz who dialed a wrong number. Then she said: "How did you know it was me?"

  I almost said harmonics, and she might have understood that. But might wasn't good enough. This was an important call, and I didn't want to screw it up. Desperately didn't want to screw it up. Through most of what followed there were two of me on the phone, George who was speaking out loud and Jake on the inside, saying all the things George couldn't. Maybe there are always two on each end of the conversation when good love hangs in the balance.

  "Because I've been thinking about you all day," I said. (I've been thinking of you all summer.)

  "How are you?"

  "I'm fine." (I'm lonely.) "How about you? How was your summer? Did you get it done?" (Have you cut your legal ties to your weird husband?)

  "Yes," she said. "Done deal. Isn't that one of the things you say, George? Done deal?"

  "I guess so. How's school? How's the library?"

  "George? Are we going to talk like this, or are we going to talk?"

  "All right." I sat down on my lumpy secondhand couch. "Let's talk. Are you okay?"

  "Yes, but I'm unhappy. And I'm very confused." She hesitated, then said: "I was working at Harrah's, you probably know that. As a cocktail waitress. And I met somebody."

  "Oh?" (Oh, shit.)

  "Yes. A very nice man. Charming. A gentleman. Just shy of forty. His name is Roger Beaton. He's an aide to the Republican senator from California, Tom Kuchel. He's the minority whip in the Senate, you know. Kuchel, I mean, not Roger." She laughed, but not the way you do when something's funny.

  "Should I be glad you met someone nice?"

  "I don't know, George . . . are you glad?"

  "No." (I want to kill him.)

  "Roger is handsome," she said in a flat just-the-facts voice. "He's pleasant. He went to Yale. He knows how to show a girl a good time. And he's tall."

  The second me would no longer keep silent. "I want to kill him."

  That made her laugh, and the sound of it was a relief. "I'm not telling you this to hurt you, or make you feel bad."

  "Really? Then why are you telling me?"

  "We went out three or four times. He kissed me . . . we made out a little . . . just necking, like kids. . . ."

  (I not only want to kill him, I want to do it slowly.)

  "But it wasn't the same. Maybe it could be, in time; maybe not. He gave me his number in Washington, and told me to call him if I . . . how did he put it? 'If you get tired of she
lving books and carrying a torch for the one that got away.' I think that was the gist of it. He says he's going places, and that he needs a good woman to go with him. He thought I might be that woman. Of course, men say stuff like that. I'm not as naive as I once was. But sometimes they mean it."

  "Sadie . . ."

  "Still, it wasn't quite the same." She sounded thoughtful, absent, and for the first time I wondered if something other than doubt about her personal life might be wrong with her. If she might be sick. "On the plus side, there was no broom in evidence. Of course, sometimes men hide the broom, don't they? Johnny did. You did, too, George."



  "Are you hiding a broom?"

  There was a long moment of silence. Much longer than the one when I had answered the phone with her name, and much longer than I expected. At last she said, "I don't know what you mean."

  "You don't sound like yourself, that's all."

  "I told you, I'm very confused. And I'm sad. Because you're still not ready to tell me the truth, are you?"

  "If I could, I would."

  "You know something interesting? You have good friends in Jodie--not just me--and none of them know where you live."


  "You say it's Dallas, but you're on the Elmhurst exchange, and Elmhurst is Fort Worth."

  I'd never thought of that. What else hadn't I thought of?

  "Sadie, all I can tell you is that what I'm doing is very impor--"

  "Oh, I'm sure it is. And what Senator Kuchel's doing is very important, too. Roger was at pains to tell me that, and to tell me that if I . . . I joined him in Washington, I would be more or less sitting at the feet of greatnesss . . . or in the doorway to history . . . or something like that. Power excites him. It was one of the few things it was hard to like about him. What I thought--what I still think--is, who am I to sit at the feet of greatness? I'm just a divorced librarian."

  "Who am I to stand in the doorway to history?" I said.

  "What? What did you say, George?"

  "Nothing, hon."

  "Maybe you better not call me that."

  "Sorry." (I'm not.) "What exactly are we talking about?"