“This means we’re going heavy into Vietnam,” Jimmy Hackett says, his grey eyes taking in the unsaid, taking a pulse on the future. “LBJ has stronger views on that struggle than JFK,” he pauses, “had.” He leans forward. “Johnson’s a hawk, in bed with the Joint Chiefs and a true believer in the Domino Theory.” He points to Tony Lucarelli, his buddy. “You and me may have to learn to speak Canadian.” He laughs.
Pete Lucarelli, Tony’s dad, wipes his face. He rubs his forehead in a weary circle, around and around, absently picking at a mole. “Nothing will be the same.”
“I was waiting for my 2pm history class to begin in Baruch Hall,” Tony says. “The professor was late. He walked in and said, The President has been shot. He’s been rushed to Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The wounds could be fatal. Class is cancelled.” Tony winces. “And then he walked out.”
“Poor Mrs. Kennedy,” Harmonie gasps, “and those poor kids.” She wipes her eyes with a tissue. “So much hate in the world.”
Pete Lucarelli sighs. “Seems like that’s all there is.”
Jimmy squints into the dark street. “It’s on the rise Mr. Lucarelli,” he grumbles.
“I bet JFK was killed because of Cuba,” Pete says, his voice cracking. “The Mob has been on a tear since it lost the casinos and the Joint Chiefs were livid the president refused air support in the Bay of Pigs fiasco.” Pete’s eyes are misty.
“Yeah, just last year the Joint Chiefs wanted to nuke Moscow and Havana and the world about blew its skivvies off.” Jimmy smiles.
Nervous laughter filters into the room, along with shaking heads.
Pete Lucarelli forces a smile. He finishes the last of his Chianti. “That’s enough for me,” he mumbles. “I’m going to bed and finish Hemingway’s Old Man and The Sea for the third time.” He sighs. “About an old Cuban fisherman battling the tides.” He wipes a stray tear from his face.
“He’s not fishing for souls, is he Mr. L?” Jimmy asks, with a sardonic smirk.
Pete forces another smile. “No. Survival.” He waves a weary goodnight. “See you kids tomorrow. Jimmy—you staying over? We can make up the couch for you.”
“Oh no thank you sir,” Jimmy says. “I’ll be leaving shortly. I have a date with Sue.” He blushes.
Mr. Lucarelli nods. “Yeah, Tony mentioned you have a girlfriend. Nice girl?”
Jimmy blushes a deep crimson and nods.
“Look-it the poor boy,” Harmonie says, and laughs.
“When will we meet Sue?” Tony asks. “You ashamed of your friends on the other side of the tracks?”
Jimmy brushes away the joke. “How about this weekend? Sunday? I’ll bring Sue over Sunday. That okay?”
“A somber weekend for love, now isn’t it, Mr. Jimmy Hackett?” Harmonie asks, a bittersweet smile forming on her ripe lips. “But that’s the only way to get through life.” Her voice catches. “That right?”
“Love is good.” Jimmy nods. “I believe in love.”
“I see that, Jimmy,” she says softly. “It’s the best thing to find.” Harmonie squeezes Tony’s hand.
“And in these times, we’re gonna need it,” Tony says, leaning into Harmonie.
“JFK went to Dallas to smooth over ruptures in the Texas Democratic Party.” Jimmy shakes his head. “Connally, the Governor, who was wounded today, wears Dixiecrat underwear.” He snorts.
Tony points to the television. “The cops arrested that guy Oswald for the murder of the Dallas police officer, Tippit. They’re grilling him for JFK’s murder.”
Jimmy taps his head. “Insane day. This weekend will be non-stop coverage. Newspapers, TV, radio.”
“It’s a national mourning—a national wake.” Tony stares at the TV.
“We’re witnessing history,” Jimmy says, feeling goose bumps. “No, more than that—it’s a rupture, the country’s bleeding.”
Tony points to a picture of JFK filling the TV screen, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, noted above JFK’s head and dates of his birth and death are etched on the bottom.
Somber music streams from the television like a soft eternal wail.
As if headlines could scream, newspapers across the nation—in small towns and massive metropolises—blasted the horror, anguish, and tragedy of November 22nd, 1963 on the front pages Saturday morning in bold print, inches high, in thick funeral font. Gruesome details of the heinous murder spread like black blood dripping on every dismal page. A deaf person could have heard the national grief over the murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Jimmy Hackett cradles the four New York City morning dailies draped across his arms, bearing the terrible news—each in its peculiar cadence and style. Headlines blared:
The New York Mirror shoots for the jugular, blunt, bloody and crude. The New York Times handles the tragedy in its typical dignified manner; the Herald Tribune in muted, terse undertones.
Hackett is proud of the Daily News, his home-base source of all things New York—from sports to spice. The News is very subdued in its grief; its message respect and mourning. The paper liked JFK—he of Irish lineage.
Jimmy is carrying his terrible trove to Sue’s place. He picks up the pace. He feels like that courier in Ancient Greece who ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a military victory against the Persians. “Only this is tragic news, not news of victory and I damn hope I won’t fall and die delivering it.” He mutters.
Sue and Jimmy kiss at the door.
“Hi,” Sue says, with a halting voice. Her eyes are wet, her face tracked with tears. “Was just watching CBS. More about the assassination and that awful murderer! Such a terrible, ugly day!” She throws herself into Hackett’s arms. He fumbles the stack of papers. They crumble to the floor. Black headlines of inconceivable grief flood the room. History crashes around them.
Jimmy and Sue cling to each other like sailors desperate not to be swept overboard. They weep. JFK was young, handsome, and virile. Jackie, his wife was beautiful and his kids precious and innocent. What God would allow this? This sniveling whiny assassin. Where did he come from? What plague generated him? Who made this fiend? What kind of womb would tolerate such a monster?
They devour every word of the tragedy on every page of all four New York City dailies, absorbing every startling, disgusting nuance, desperately seeking answers.
“Did America die November 22, 1963 in Dallas?” Jimmy asks.
Rules are voided when meaning dies. We cannot clutch air, Jimmy thinks. There’s nothing to hold onto. Language becomes pronouns. Adjectives wilt. Nouns atrophy. Verbs die.
They fuck. They want to make love, but they fuck. It’s easier.
They spend the day entwined on the couch. The TV’s dolorous tones feed their gloom.
“Keep shaking my head,” Jimmy mumbles, nuzzling Sue’s fly-away blonde hair.
“I keep sighing.”
“Thought that was me.”
Sue giggles. Her small hand thumps his chest.
They do it again.
“You want to go to the Lucarelli’s tomorrow?” Jimmy asks, kissing Sue’s cheek. “Tony and Harmonie want to meet you.”
Sue looks at Jimmy and blushes. Love and jealousy wash over her. “Was she really a prostitute and you went to her often?”
Jimmy turns crimson. “Yes, but the last time was over a year ago.” He looks at Sue, studies her face and nods. “It was a bad time for Harmonie. Her pimp tormented her and her mother. He fed Harmonie’s mom—Evandra—drugs to keep her submissive and urged Harmonie to do smack. Thank God she never did.
Charles Gant was his name. He was killed last July. He was relentless, kept beating her to do tricks or pay him for the rent. Gant wanted more than rent money. He was after blood money from Lucarelli. Nothing would’ve been enough. It burned him Harmonie was giving it to a white boy, that Tony had taken Harmonie from him. Gant raped her last summer. The night he was killed.
Tony found Harmonie naked and weeping in the apartment. He got her Glock and went out hunting for Gant. By the time Tony found Gant, he was dead, shot in an apparent struggle with his own gun in an alley outside one of his haunts. The speculation was a drug deal gone bad. Like anything Gant ever did in his sorry life was good.” Hackett snorts. “Tony raced outta there like hell was on fire. It was in the papers. You read about it or hear about it?”
Sue shakes her head, no. “How terrible. The things people do to each other. Are Tony and Harmonie happy?”
“Yes, very.” He smiles. “They love each other. Harmonie is getting her GED, plans to go to City College, maybe pursue nursing, and Tony is a freshman at Baruch, studying history or maybe political science. I forget.” Jimmy scratches his stubble. “They are good people—if you can believe a whore can be redeemed and a dumbass white boy can fall in love with a black whore.” He shrugs, gazes at Sue and feels horny again. “Pygmalion, the Manhattan version.”
The four kids lean against each other in pods of two on the nubby green couch. They watch NBC’s coverage of the ongoing drama. It is the first assassination of a President since William McKinley in 1901. Word leaked out back then by telegraph and crank telephones and newspapers over days in halting coverage. Today, TV exposes our eyes to the Orwellian horror of it, the gore of it, live and raw for the first time in history into our living rooms.
The scene unfolds before them: The police are transporting Oswald to the Dallas Sheriff’s office for arraignment. The elevator doors open. Oswald is escorted arm-in-arm by two detectives.
Reporters close in, jostling for pictures. It’s noisy and chaotic. Oswald is a slight, thin-haired weasel-looking guy.
A thick-set man in a bowler hat blocks the cops’ path and plants himself a few feet from Oswald. A shot is fired. A cop with a big white face and Stetson hat looks at the thick-set man in disgust.
Detectives pounce on the man, wrestling him to the floor.
“He’s been shot! He’s been shot! Lee Oswald has been shot. There was a man with a gun.” The TV reporter exclaims. His voice ratchets from stunned to excited. “It’s absolute panic. It’s absolute panic here in the basement of Dallas police headquarters.”
“What the hell is going on!” Tony shouts.
The girls gasp.
“Detectives have their guns drawn. Oswald has been shot. There’s no question about it. Oswald has been shot. Pandemonium has broken loose here in the basement of Dallas police headquarters,” the reporter yammers, squeezing words from a bag of salt.
“Jesus Mary Joseph,” Jimmy says, like in prayer—a mean feat for an atheist. “Who’s next?” He scratches his stubble.
“…Oswald reached for his stomach, doubled up…”
“Second time in two days we’ve seen a man shot and probably killed on TV,” Harmonie says, her hand still covering her mouth. “As bad as the ghetto.” A sour smirk crosses her pretty face.
Sue nods. “First the President. Then his assassin. One deed we weep over; the other we toast.”
“Who the hell is this guy?” Tony asks, his dark eyebrows arched like apostrophes.
“Lee Oswald obviously has been shot.” The TV reporter repeats, his voice low, his clean-shaved bespectacled face registering shock.
The TV reporter continues to fill space with sound, as we all must do, the crowning attribute of a species rife with wile and scant wisdom. He nods his head and gestures with his left arm. “The witnesses around here seem to confirm that it happened so fast and with such suddenness that you can understand,” he taps his glasses, “it is virtually impossible to determine the direction from which the bullet came…” The reporter turns to his right, then swivels back to the camera, his visage calm, but his actions betraying stress, “although huh,” he swivels again to his right, his voice losing clarity against the growing noise in the room, “police obviously…although in a rather excited state” he swivels back to the right… “are attempting to determine where the shot came from as well…” he turns again to his right, “Captain, Captain…” the reporter swivels further to his right; we see the back of his finely groomed head. He turns back, facing the camera. Others come into the picture. Anonymous pilgrims walking the course of imperfect history.
A man wearing glasses approaches the reporter. The man wants to tell us what he knows. “I’m Jeff Edwards from KHA Radio in Los Angeles. I was standing over there towards the lift. Oswald came out.” Edwards faces the reporter. “He had the same look he always did, had, suddenly a sound like a firecracker rang out, he grabbed his side, and he said ‘OW!’ and he fell to the ground…”
More men pass in front of the reporter and mill around, giving us side views. Other voices chime in, disconnected to faces. One says: “I saw a flash on his black sweater…”
“We know the bullet came from the gun Mr. Mystery Man fired point blank into Oswald’s chest,” Jimmy snorts.
“The guy’s got a tough job, making sense of this circus.” Tony grumbles.
“He’s making murder entertainment,” Jimmy says.
The young audience is agog at the spectacle.
A throng of men cluster around the TV reporter. It’s a buzz of sound, chunks of words trail off, and bounce against the walls in the basement of Dallas police headquarters. The reporter—later footnoted by historians to be Tom Pettit—turns back to the camera. He talks above the din. We hear pieces of it. “Now that’s the situation here in Dallas police headquarters, truly amazing, a story so unreal from the very beginning as Lee Oswald twenty-four years old was attempting to move to an armored car where he was to be transferred to the Dallas County Jail. As Oswald came out, he was asked ‘Did you shoot the President’ or something along those lines and at that hour, at that moment, at that instant,” the reporter looks at his watch, “sometime about 11:15 in Dallas, someone walked up to Oswald and at point blank range fired a—” the reported spins left, he sees something and steps toward the camera. “An ambulance now, is coming here, uh, this is the ambulance to take Lee Oswald to wherever he will receive medical treatment.”
The ambulance arrives, lights flashing.
“It is almost unbelievable, it’s almost unbelievable that the uh—” Pettit continues, then halts in mid-sentence. Police are seen pushing the reporters back, clearing space. Two men carry a stretcher into the room. More disjointed voices rise in the crowded room. The crowd bends and leans back and blocks the screen. A cacophony of sounds drum against a sea of ears. Oswald is seen being taken away on the stretcher. “Here he comes. There’s Oswald, like a fairy tale, on a stretcher, he’s being put into the ambulance. Head-first. There’s a group of detectives around the rear of the ambulance. Now they have a problem, the ambulance is blocked by the armored car. On Commerce Street, (the armored car) which was to take Lee Oswald to the Dallas County Jail now is blocking the exit of the ambulance which is to take Lee Oswald to a hospital. “Captain where will he be taken?” Noise fills the air. “Captain where will he be taken?”
“I’m assuming Parkland Hospital,” an invisible voice says.
“Parkland Hospital, the irony of ironies. The place where John F. Kennedy died. The armored car has been cleared out of the entranceway. The ambulance now is leaving Dallas Police Headquarters.”
The screen changes. The ambulance leaves police headquarters—lights flashing—and wheels onto Commerce Street, weaving through traffic to Parkland Hospital.
“Dallas police say they do have a man in custody. They believe he is the man who walked up to Lee Oswald at point blank range and fired a revolver into his stomach.” The screen shifts to the street, then back to the reporter. “Oswald grabbed at his midsection, fell to the floor.” The reporter, Tom Pettit, turns and walks deeper into the room, looks back at the camera, and squirrels along the edge of the crowd. “Now you can see the pandemonium.”
“I didn’t see it. I do believe he’s the man.” A lean man, with a short haircut, says, nodding yes.
“What’s he look like?” An unseen voice asks.
“I can’t give you a description now,” the first man says.
Voices clash in a tin can. Sounds unleash, unbounded to sense or timing. Words are unintelligible and meaningless.
Pettit works deeper into the room and turns back to the camera. “That was a Captain with the Dallas police about the man they’re holding. He is known to be a man wearing a black hat,” says Tom Pettit, known forever not by his name, but by his haunting, tremulous, queries of the powers-that-be—seeking answers to silly questions—while the unanswered questions of why and what the fuck is going down will linger in our mind-strings until the day we die.
“Christ, this is The Twilight Zone,” Jimmy says, shaking his head.
“Nothing makes sense.” Tony’s dark head cranks at the television. “They should arrest Walt Disney.”
The young witnesses laugh.
“Not feeling much empathy for Oswald,” Harmonie says in a low voice, her eyes fixed on the commotion on the TV.
“Who in God’s name, is the man in the black hat?” Tony says, a tick of a smile passing over his lean face.
“People,” Harmonie says, shaking her head and smiling the smile you give to prunes in a jar, “I think we need a break. Let’s get lunch.”
They walk up 207th Street toward Broadway, where the Irish camp out on the western-crest of the hill with Winchesters and snub-nosed .38s to defend their terrain—all of it blessed by the Good Shepherd Church, cut from a block of stone on the west side of Broadway, Lucarelli thinks, stifling a grin.
They shuffle by various closed shops. It is Sunday—allegedly, the Day of the Lord, reserved for prayer, sleep and repast. There will be more than a few beers to numb pain this day; a time when the Irish have lost one of their own. The girls browse through store windows at shoes, blouses, skirts, and lacey things. The guys guide them into several candy stores—some feature soda fountains—but all sell newspapers, tobacco and most important, glossy girlie magazines, and the latest action covers of Sports Illustrated and Sports Magazine. The guys steal glances at several raunchy Mickey Spillane paperbacks.
Veiled glances and sideway-looks track their climb up the hill toward Broadway. It’s not too noticeable today. The good folks of Good Shepherd and St. Jude parishes that span the confines of Inwood are in specific, personal, mourning over the loss of the first Irish Catholic President in U.S. history. He was one of them. He made good and prayed to the same God sometimes, the same way they do sometimes.
Pictures of a smiling JFK and his family, many clipped from newspapers and magazines, are taped across glass storefronts—butcher shops, clothing shops, pharmacies, corner grocery stores, cleaners, Jack’s TV & Appliance store, and the Woolworth’s Five & Dime store.
The Shamrock Bar & Grill cries in its booze. JFK, his brothers, and confidants sail, play touch football in flinty photos over the years, splayed on a string across the front and side windows. More pictures and articles of better days are tacked onto a sign board by the front door.
Like angels in a procession, memories trace the hill like a trail of tears.
Sam’s Deli sits by the Eighth Avenue Subway on the corner of 207th Street and Broadway. Hebrew letters line the front storefront window in white script. A medley of pictures and news articles of and about JFK are plastered across the windows. A frontpage New York Daily News Headline with a pensive JFK during last year’s October Missile Crisis highlights the display. Black crepe adorns the inside entrance.
The kids walk into Sam’s. “Hi guys,” Jilly says, and motions them to follow her. A small black and white TV behind the counter blares with the latest carnage—the murder of the murderer.
Oswald is dead. He died at Parkland Hospital two hours earlier; where JFK died, feet away.
“The bastard should burn in hell,” Johnny Hughes, a skinny red-faced man thin as a pencil, mutters. Samuel Birnbaum, glum-faced, his small fat fingers counting the thin man’s change, glances at the TV and back to the customer. He nods and snorts.
“Yeah, hell’s too good for that pig,” Sam says, his belly spreading over the counter’s edge
“Dallas police just ID’d Oswald’s killer, a night club owner. Jack Ruby, as in Rubenstein.” Sammy smiles. “They say Ruby’s an emotional man. Makes me proud.” Sam hands Johnny his change.
The kids are seated. Jilly deals menus to them like in poker and pours water. She smiles at Tony, finishing off her pour of Tony’s glass with a side twist of her thin wrist. The water falls into Tony’s glass with a wet plunk sound. A subway train rumbles below—a grumpy uncle warning of the future.
“That girl eyeing you Baby,” Harmonie says, tugging Tony’s sleeve. Her eyes track the young waitress crossing the room back to the counter. “Should I be jealous?” Her serious brown eyes are betrayed by a curling smile across her mouth.
Tony blushes. “Not that I can tell.” He squeezes Harmonie’s hand.
“That good Baby, that real good.” Harmonie laughs, squeezing back.
“I love happy endings,” Jimmy says, pointing to Harmonie and Tony. He bends close to the table and wraps his big hands across their joined mitts. “But damn, this weekend is bad luck for anything but misery.” He nods to the black crepe and the handwritten JFK In Memoriam sign over yet one more assembly of photos. He sighs. “I admit I wasn’t that keen on the guy, but damn, I feel it in my bones, the world’s come crashing down on us.”
“I feel that too. I think he was stumbling in the right direction.” Harmonie bends low at the table and whispers. “But my people been reaping hate our whole time in this country.”
“No argument from me on that.” Jimmy snorts and gestures to Tony for corroboration. “But this is monumental,” he says. “Something fragile has been destroyed.”
“I agree,” Tony says, nodding. “I think we all feel that, but other Presidents were assassinated. Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley. Abe Lincoln—Christ. What about Lincoln?” Tony asks. “The country recovered.”
Jimmy shakes his head. “We never did.” he says, gesturing to Harmonie. “JFK’s murder is worse than Lincoln’s.” He scratches his head. “Don’t have all the reasons for that, but it is.” He sighs. “We’ve lost our rudder and there’s a hole in the boat.” His big hand knifes the air.
“Maybe it’s because he represented something different—even if it was half-bullshit.”
Jimmy jabs his head with his meaty fist. “JFK’s murder is live. It’s prime time. It destroys the myth of that New Age. We are again off the tracks.” He pauses. “I feel we are falling from the sky, a mountain top, the Sky Deck of The Empire State.”
Tony nods. “We’re grieving as we breathe. Our President was murdered in front of our eyes. It’s America’s funeral procession.”
Bob Lupo was born and raised in New York City, served as a combat medic in Vietnam, and enjoyed a successful 25-year career on Wall Street as a Junk Bond Analyst.
Bleacher Heaven (2017), his most recent novel, weaves a gripping tale of good cops chasing bad cops in the South Bronx as the Nation gapes at the spectacle of the never-ending drama of the 7th Game of the 2016 World Series between the Yankees and the Mets.
He has written two other novels: A Buffalo’s Revenge (2003), a Vietnam negative, explores the limits of a nation engaged in a struggle for freedom when the mirror reveals a fractured image; Extremities-4 (2003) is a satiric adult morality tale on the perils of being human and animal.
Bob just completed Crazy Fates, his fourth work of fiction, about the dystopian 1960’s. He lives in Hakalau, Hawai'i with his wife, Linda, his yellow lab, Zinn, and three cats reluctantly carrying the names Lily, Sistah Sistah, and Buddy.