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Return Engagements (Book One) PART 23… in which I play the operative

Picking up from Part 22, in which I created a new life, waited for the Warren Report, and contacted Dorothy Kilgallen.

I spent the next two days enjoying Manhattan. I went to the Second Avenue Deli (when it was still on 2nd Avenue), the Metropolitan Museum, and took a train to the Natural History Museum in Brooklyn. I even ran into the father of one of my 2016 friends. It was fun.

On the third day, Dorothy’s column in the Journal-American had “dumbfounded” in it. My notes said that she’d be heading to the TV studio in the early afternoon, and so I dressed down (pretty far down), sat on a curb, read her paper and ate a hot dog.

Soon enough she appeared. I had to hustle to reach her before she got to the door, but I managed to pull it off without drawing attention.

“Apologies for the wardrobe change, Miss Kilgallen, but you’re likely being watched, and I don’t want to be identified. Please act like I’m a beggar while I pull out another envelope for you.”

She said something about always wanting to help ex-servicemen down on their luck and handed me a dollar. I handed her an envelope with a single photo in it, showing Oswald in the sniper’s nest, rifle in hand and protruding from the window. Next to him, his face only slightly obscured, was Mac Wallace yelling.

“I expect that you’ll be ready to publish something now,” I said. “But if not, you’ll have to put a note in your column telling me why. Be obscure if you must, but I will not keep exposing myself to no end.”

I turned and left. By a roundabout course involving two cabs and a bus, I got back to the hotel, checked out and headed to LaGuardia. I made it home in time for a good night’s sleep.

* * * * *

I was again invited to Mike Jr’s home for Christmas and happily attended. I had a lovely time. I think the grandkids felt like they were touching something of their grandfather through me, and I did my best to make good on it.

At an appropriate moment I said to Michael, “So, are you ready to lease the apartment now?”

“No,” he said while shaking his head. “Give us another year?”

I had to laugh at being offered a nice apartment rent free, thinking, Where were you when I was 23?

“I can give you 1965, Mike, but I think no more… for both our sakes.”

He nodded, we shook hands on it, and went back to the festivities, in this case the singing of carols.

* * * * *

The Sunday night after Christmas, however, shook the world. Dorothy had the two photos I gave her enlarged to life size and used the images of Mac Wallace as the mystery guest on What’s My Line?

She had Oswald’s image draped on both photos and answered the questions from the panel herself. And then, when no one could guess, she unveiled Oswald and revealed Wallace as “Lee Harvey Oswald’s accomplice.”

As yet she didn’t know who Wallace was, but she promised to find out.

The next morning every major newspaper had the story. The afternoon papers had the photos, which Dorothy had sent over the newswires. Things were getting very hot, very fast. I could only hope that Mac Wallace wasn’t suicided too quickly.

Nonetheless, I kept to my daily routine. I went to the gym and then to the Alter Cocker Roundtable at Ashkenaz. The whole gang was there. And as it was most everywhere, Dorothy Kilgallen’s photos were the central topic of conversation. Several of the boys were there before me, along with two of their wives.

“So, wadda ya think?” Sam asked me as I arrived at the table.

“Damning,” I said, to which they all nodded their heads.

“Now, that’s presuming that the photos are real, but I can hardly imagine Dorothy Kilgallen pulling that kind of theatrics with fakes.”

“She was on the radio this morning,” inserted Rose, Sam’s wife.

“Really? What did she say?”

“She said that she had the negative for one of the photos and ran it past the best photo expert in New York. He said it was authentic and unaltered.”

“Well, then,” I went on, “that seems pretty bad to me. But what do you guys think it means practically? What comes of this?”

I asked that because I wanted to gauge the real world response to this. And the Roundtable was a very experienced group of folks.

We drank coffee, ate and bounced ideas around the table for almost two hours; long enough for the lunch rush to squeeze us out.

Then, as quickly as I could, I drove home and pulled out my stationary and my notes. I wrote four letters to the most serious investigative journalists I knew of, one in LA, one in San Francisco and two in DC.

In all four letters I explained that Dorothy Kilgallen’s mystery man was Malcolm, or Mac, Wallace… that he had been working in Austin, Texas, as some kind of economist for the government, that he was convicted for killing a man named Douglas Kinzer but served no jail time due to the influence of Lyndon Johnson, and that he had recently murdered an agricultural agency official associated with the Billy Sol Estes affair.

I added that I was reciting my facts from memory, but that if they followed up on the story, I could give them further material. I signed the letters merely as “Mr. X” and used no return address. Then I drove to Milwaukee to mail them.

* * * * *

The drive back from Milwaukee was one of the brighter spots of my stay in the 1960s. I had begun pulling back the veil on what was clearly a deeply corrupt but roundly worshipped organization, and I was past halfway through my exile.

My friend had estimated that the virtual world would last 30 months back in July of ’63. December of ’64, already ending, marked 17 months. I had just a little more than a year to go.

Calling my time in the ’60s an exile is too strong of course. It was also a tremendous opportunity and one I’d take again if I could. But I love my family and I very much wanted to be back with them.

In any event, I listened to breathless analysis of my photos on the way back home, while driving past various milestones of my life, much of which took place north of Chicago. And then, as I reached Dundee Road, a beautiful snow began to fall.

I switched off the news, got off the highway and chose my favorite secondary streets. I drove the rest of the way home listening to classical music, interspersed with a couple of Beatles songs that were playing seemingly everywhere.

Once home, I poured myself a brandy, turned off all the lights and pulled back the drapes in the front room. I sat for an hour or two just watching the snow cover the park. It was lovely.

* * * * *

I had half a mind to rush back to New York and give Dorothy another batch of photos but decided that people needed time to absorb the facts and that I’d give it to them. I stayed on my retiree’s schedule.

And while the furor over the photos continued, subsiding slowly, I had a very normal week. I followed my schedule in the mornings and read a John le Carré spy novel in the afternoons. It was cold and snowy, and so for a couple days I took the bus rather than driving and enjoyed reliving the bus rides of my childhood.

On New Year’s Eve I was invited to Sam and Rose’s apartment, and we had a pleasant evening. I had to fake a few details of my life, but I didn’t really contradict myself, so they had no reason to suspect anything.

As I walked to my car afterward (we didn’t stay up till anywhere near midnight), I crossed paths with my choir teacher and friend, Hermie Goodman. This was a full eight years before I’d meet him from his perspective, but I was thrilled to see him and struck up a small conversation.

Johnson’s State of the Union address was the next Monday evening. And bad luck for him, that was the day the San Francisco Chronicle – followed by afternoon papers nationwide – identified Malcolm Wallace as the Kennedy assassination accomplice and said there were rumors tying him to Johnson.

Johnson, however, ignored the issue almost entirely, adding just one comment in a very nasty tone about “ridiculous challenges to the most esteemed panel of experts ever convened in this country.” And sadly, his remark (with lots of FBI pressure behind it) had an effect.

The next day the news outlets that were best connected to the government (The Washington Times, The New York Times, etc.) were silent about Wallace and the photos.

And so I packed up another two sets of photos and caught a flight to La Guardia. I got to the hotel late afternoon and before I went looking for Dorothy, I sent an envelope to the journalist in San Francisco. (Actually, I mailed it to his editor, with a note inside directing him to pass it along.) In the envelope were two photos: one of the shooter at the stockade fence on the grassy knoll and another of the same man slipping away down the railroad tracks.

I would give Dorothy two photos as well, both of them enlarged single frames of the 16mm film. One showed Wallace pulling Oswald out of the sniper’s nest and another one of him taking the shot that went through Kennedy’s neck.

Finding Dorothy, however, was risky. Almost certainly there would be FBI men following her 24/7, and if I had any interaction with her, I’d probably be grabbed and questioned. Something else had to be done. I figured I could probably use the mail, but I needed to be fast this time. I didn’t want the initial success of Johnson’s intimidation to harden into inertia.

And so I came up with a plan: I took a nap, woke up at midnight, made myself look shabby and tired, and walked to the Journal-American’s office.

On the way I stopped at an all-night Chinese place and ordered five dinners. I had them wrap it all up in a large bag and staple the receipt to it, like deliveries are wrapped. Then I walked the last few blocks to the newspaper office.

It was 2:00 AM when I got there, and there were no watchers in sight. I bluffed my way up to the newsroom and found it almost empty. There were a couple of people in side offices and a cleaning lady.

While no one was looking I pulled the photos out of my underwear (the best hiding place I could think of) and a $10 bill out of my pocket. Then I walked up to the cleaning lady, holding up the bag of food. She stood still, waiting to hear what I had to say.

“Look,” I said, “I need to find Ms. Kilgallen’s desk. All I want to do is leave a note for her. She’s expecting it but her bosses shouldn’t know about it.”

She looked very suspicious.

“It’ll take you 20 seconds, no one will ever know, and I’ll give you $10.”

I would have gone higher, but if you go too high people become frightened that the situation is too big for them.

She walked me to the desk. I set the food down and then slid my envelope into her top drawer. I had to play with the drawer, but I got it.

Then I turned to the woman.

“Say, ‘I told you, she’s not here.’”

She did.

“God, I hate these crank deliveries,” I said, semi-loud.

I picked up the bag, dropped the $10 onto her cart, muttered a quiet “thanks,” and took my food back with me. The guy at the information desk was talking to some woman and noticed me barely if at all. I shuffled back toward the hotel, reversing course every now and then to be sure I wasn’t followed.

Back at the hotel I ate some cashew chicken, finished my sleep, then headed back to Chicago in the morning.

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)

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