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Return Engagements (Book One) PART 16… in which I prepare for Dallas

Picking up from Part 15, in which I finally accepted the strange job I had fallen into.

The next day… or maybe one more, I didn’t keep a diary… I found myself feeling better but absolutely stuck on what to do. This time I had an answer; this was simply an odd version of writer’s block, something with which I was familiar.

“So,” I said to myself while getting ready for another day of doing nothing (which is exactly what I had been doing), “if you can’t come up with a ‘great thing’ to do, then at least start doing something.”

And “something” was sitting right in front of me: my appointment in Dallas, November 22. That was a large and engaging project and something I could throw myself into.

More than that, I realized, if I was right about the Kennedy assassination, exposing it could make a very significant difference in the world. Half the good things of the 1970s had the Kennedy assassination at or near their roots. For millions of people it slashed through the blinders of status-quo worship, freeing them to broaden their field of view. What if I could increase that effect?

This, then, became my job. Perhaps something else might be better, but I didn’t know what it was, and this was something that might be very potent and positive. I had my project.

* * * * *

Instead of finding a house, I made another deal with the Sands: a small suite for the months of August, September, and October. I’d get maid service three times per week and an excellent price.

For my photography, I found myself a small, slightly rundown office near the new university, just a couple of miles away. It had air conditioning and enough electrical service for whatever kind of lighting I wanted. I put a sign in front that said 20th Century Photography, just for grins.

A week into August, my office was set up and I was accumulating photographic equipment and literature, partly from local camera stores, partly from another in LA (where I went to see Koufax pitch, twice) and partly via mail order. I sent Michael the address and either wrote or received a letter twice per week.

Perhaps most tellingly, I fell into a normal schedule: waking up early, going to work learning and practicing photography, going to a good gym midmorning, then to lunch, then back to work, mayb-e a nap in the afternoon (I bought a couch for the office), working again till I needed dinner, then back to the Sands. It was pleasant and it was productive.

* * * * *

“Paul, it’s Mike.”

Long distance phone calls were expensive in 1963 and their quality was fairly poor, so we didn’t call very often.

“Hi, Mike. How nice to hear from you. All is well?”

“Yes, and almost surprisingly so. The doctor says my pressure has improved and I should be fine to travel. So, how’d you like a visit?”

I’d be happy to see Mike of course – beyond everything else, he’s a good man, and I’d just barely begun to know him – but the schedule concerned me; I needed to get to Dallas, and I didn’t want to tell him about it.

“That would be lovely, Mike. Any thoughts on dates?”

“Not really. Next week or the week after, I suppose.”

“Great, then let’s make it the week after. I have some plans for next week.”

He said he’d call a travel agent and get back to me, I told him I’d have a room waiting for him at the Sands, and we finished the call. (As I said, they were expensive.)

And then I called the concierge at the Sands and had them get a travel agent for me too. I’d need to fly to Dallas soon. If I was going to do this, I’d need to do a lot of reconnaissance beforehand.

* * * * *

Two days later I was on a morning flight to Dallas. I took a taxi to the Adolphus Hotel, which looked to be a perfect base for me. If I could make friends with the management, they would be a terrific asset. And grooming those assets before anyone knew Kennedy would even come to Dallas would keep things very clean. Furthermore, the hotel was a short walk to Dealey Plaza, and I could get cabs day or night, for checking on Ruby and Oswald.

My problem for Dallas was clear: how to take the photos (and hopefully movies) I wanted, without standing out from the crowd. Here’s an annotated photo I found that shows the layout of the assassination scene as it was in 1963:

Courtesy Wikimedia

The photos I really wanted would be of the windows at the School Book Depository, the pergola nearest Elm Street (where Kennedy would be shot) and the back side of the grassy knoll right next to the pergola. I’d need to get into a good position, take my photos, then get the hell out, all without drawing attention to myself. If I got dragged in by the Secret Service, it could end my mission.

* * * * *

The hotel was terrific and I was able to make some associations with the bosses there. We settled on weekly rates for October and November, when I told them I’d be in town to look at setting up a photography studio. And to make that legit, I’d have to set up a meeting with a couple of Dallas newspapers or magazines, which sounded entertaining and possibly useful for later. That would be for October.

Finding spots, however, was tricky. The County Records building looked ideal, but it would require breaking into an office with a western view. The roof might provide a nice vantage point, but it would leave me exposed. Getting into an office, on the other hand, would require me to pick locks. I could learn that skill easily enough – there were always locksmith courses in the old Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines – but I’d also have to find the right offices.

And so I arrived early one morning, prepared with a pad of paper, took the elevator to the top floor, then walked the hallways of each subsequent floor, recording every suitable office that seemed empty. I found 11 candidates and noted the make of lock they had. I’d check them again in October, and then, if possible, right before the assassination. I’d have to identify the building’s security procedures too. I could see why the people who do this kind of work always complain about the length of the preparation stage.

The Criminal Courts Building, as I suspected, had too much security to be a serious candidate.

The Old Court House was a possibility, but most of it was closed off. If I wanted to use it, I’d have to sneak both in and out. And if someone tried to stop me, I’d have to run. Either that or subdue them, which would be ugly. I could brew up some homemade pepper spray, but that was just one more complicated piece I’d have to invent and test.

My last good choice would be one of the upper floors of the Post Office. But even so, it was awfully far away, easily a thousand feet from the assassination site. Telephoto lenses that could shoot that distance existed, but they’d also require a good tripod and fast film.

Nothing about this was easy. I could find a decent spot in the crowd, but that would limit my field of view substantially and expose me to stray bullets, which could ruin my mission as well.

I stayed in Dallas four days and came away from it with a legal pad filled with notes and a tentative plan: I would get into one of the offices in the County Records building, train a movie camera on the School Book Depository, and shoot the best telephoto stills I could while letting the movie camera run.

Then, if Jim and Robert showed up, I’d try to get one of them into the Post Office and another behind the grassy knoll… which wouldn’t be easy either.

The work was harder and slower than I had expected, and I never did get around to checking out Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. But I did have the address.

* * * * *

Michael showed up the last week of August. I greeted him at the gate and we walked down to the baggage claim area almost arm in arm. He pointed out his two large suitcases and asked me to pull them from the rack.

“I presume you had the skycaps load these for you in Chicago?”

“Doctor’s orders,” he said. “Maybe we should get someone to carry them for us now too.”

“No, it’s okay,” I answered. “They’re not too bad and I missed the gym today.”

I smirked and he laughed.

And they really weren’t that heavy… or at least one of them wasn’t. I switched hands about halfway back to the car.

Aside from his clothes, Michael’s bags contained two other things. First was a box of photos, which he wanted to sort and have me make large prints. Second were a number of journal notebooks.

Once we got to the room at the Sands, he started showing them to me. They were journals he’d kept since his wife Doreen died in 1933.

“Michael, this is very personal stuff,” I said quietly and carefully. “Are you sure you don’t mind me reading it?”

“No, Paul, I want you to read it. My son can’t bear it, and I have no one else in the world who could read it and appreciate it.”

I was honored, and I began to read them late that night. More than that, I was overwhelmed. It reminded me of the writings of Eric Hoffer, the “longshoreman philosopher,” except that it was far more intimate and emotional.

The notebooks contained the most personal thoughts of a true saint. Not that all his life was particularly divine… it was more than that. This was the story of a man of whom, as Hebrews says, “the world was not worthy.” Or at least for whom the world was not ready. These were the records of a gifted man trying to thrive among people who were capable of being like him but who couldn’t be convinced of that fact.

What impacted me most about these journals, however, was the fact that they were about to be erased from human history. Once I got back to 2016, I could try to find them of course, but the likelihood that they still remained in an attic somewhere was slight. Almost certainly they would have decomposed in a garbage dump.

And I definitely wasn’t bringing anything back with myself. The only record of these journals in the entire universe would be whatever I could carry in my mind. And while my memory is good, it’s not yet good enough to transfer it all.

But having learned the value of a good concierge, I engaged mine to obtain the services of a Xerox machine, which I learned were fairly new but available. It took some doing, but by the end of the week, I had a Xeroxed copy of Michael’s journals. And if I could read them two or three times before going back, I’d certainly retain the most important parts, and I’d certainly incorporate them into my writings over time.

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)

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