Seven years later, when I was twenty, there was an Italian film with a title translated into English as Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. Seven years earlier, being only thirteen, that’s exactly what I was. And it was one of the four reasons I was chosen. The second was that a year earlier I’d won the under-16 target shooting championship. The third was that I was a chess nerd, and there was a tournament in Dallas the weekend before, which would make the perfect cover. And the fourth was a chance encounter at a tournament in late August in my hometown of Seattle. My opponent beat me, though not handily, but we had a long chat in the skittles room afterwards, and I guess he recognized the fellow psychopath in me. And, well, the rest is history.
I was deemed mature for my age, and so when I told my parents that the Washington Chess Federation had bought my flight to Dallas, they believed me. My dad drove me to the airport, and picked me up a week later. My new ‘friend’ met my plane in Dallas, but he didn’t make the ‘offer’ until Sunday night, after the last game of the tournament. I guess he didn’t want to break my concentration.
Not that that helped. I lost four of my six games, came home with no prize money, and so not a lot to show for the WCF’s generosity, other than $50,000 in a bank account no one else knew about until I declined a job at my uncle’s sawmill the summer before I went to college. My dad was furious, but I convinced him I’d saved enough from tournament prizes over the past seven years, including, I lied, $1100 in Dallas, at which point his face turned from anger red to, well, whatever colour pride is. Of course it helped that I was the favourite child to begin with, as my older brother was in jail for selling weed and my still-living-at-home older sister had just presented my parents with the second kid they’d have to look after.
When my new ‘friend’ detailed the offer that Sunday night, I was pretty sure he was kidding. But the details were just, well, too detailed. I was to position myself behind a kind of snow fence on what came to be known as ‘the grassy knoll’, though it wasn’t much of a knoll, and the grass wasn’t very grassy. When the car came into view, I was to focus on the target and take my shot when I thought I had it. I was not told to wait until I heard from what I was told would be the primary sniper. But it was the sound of that shot that spurred me into action, almost as if it had been subliminally programmed into me.
I do remember the head driven forward, I presume from his shot, and then driven back, presumably from mine. But I never took a second shot. Nor had I been instructed to. “Take your shot,” I was told, “slip the rifle back into the [fishing rod] tube,” and just calmly saunter away from the scene of the crime. “Do not look around to see if anyone saw you, because we’ll have a blind of four burley men surrounding you to ensure that no one does.” And, as the Warren Report was later to report, sure enough no one did.
Years later I was taking a course called “Introduction to Ethics” as an elective to fill out my engineering degree, and we were debating whether one would or would not be responsible for a murder that had been ‘overdetermined’. A hitman enters the victim’s bedroom, puts a bullet in his head, only to discover that his wife had already stabbed him six times in the heart. Is the hitman guilty of murder or not?
And of course I couldn’t help thinking about that head being driven forward by that first shot. If the man wasn’t already dead by the time I took the second shot, he soon would be. And would be whether I’d fired the second shot or gone fishing instead. The problem, or so the class was told, was that if we acquit the hitman, we’d have to acquit the wife if, unbeknownst to her, the hitman had got to the victim first. So if the head had been driven back and only then driven forward, my co-sniper could be charged with nothing more than ‘offering an indignity to a corpse’. I can’t say I felt the force of the conundrum, but it certainly intrigued me, so I wrote my term paper on it, and scored a solid A for my efforts.
Anyhow, all of this was several lifetimes ago. Lee Harvey Oswald, who I never met and knew nothing about, took the rap, and though whole libraries have been written speculating about the ‘second gunman on the grassy knoll’, he or, in my case she, was never found, and never will be. She never will be because I’ve told this story at least a hundred times. In fact it’s my signature parlour schtick. And yet no one believes me. As they say, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.
But it’s not a trick. It’s a curse. I have one claim to fame, and all my family and friends can do is roll their eyes. God works in mysterious ways? No He doesn’t. How else would He cast Satan into Hell?!