REPLAY
by Ken Grimwood

 

FIVE

The betting was over; they both knew that. The word was out on him and Frank, and there wasn’t a bookie or casino in the country that would accept any sizeable wager from either of them.

There were, of course, other kinds of bets, under more genteel names.

‘… put the accounting section in that office there, and legal staff here across the hall. Now, down this way …’

Frank was obviously taking great pleasure in showing Jeff around the still only half-furnished suite of offices on the fiftieth floor of the Seagram Building. He’d selected the site, with Jeff’s approval, and had taken charge of all the minutiae of organizing what needed to be done, from their original incorporation as ‘Future, Inc.’ to the hiring of secretaries and bookkeepers.

Frank had quit law school, and they’d tacitly agreed that he would oversee the day-to-day operations of the company while Jeff made the larger decisions about investments and overall corporate direction. Frank no longer questioned the validity of Jeff’s recommendations, but there’d been a strange pall between the two partners since the World Series coup. They rarely socialized, but Jeff knew Frank had been drinking more than ever before. His former curiosity had been replaced with an apparent growing fear of just how much Jeff knew and how he knew it. The matter was never discussed again.

‘… through this reception area here – just wait’ll you see the knockout who’ll be sitting at that desk a couple of weeks from now – and … here … we … are!’

The office was expansive yet somehow cosy, impressive without being intimidating. A black Barcelona chair awaited its owner behind the large oval oak desk, which faced a well-stocked bar and a handsomely cabineted TV-stereo console. Floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls offered views of the Hudson River on one side and the towers of midtown Manhattan on the other. The several flourishing plants gave a lush feeling to every corner of the room, and the framed Pollocks offered testament to the worth of human creativity. Amusingly, and with perfect appropriateness, one block of wall space was devoted to a photographic blowup of a horse bedecked with flowers: Chateaugay, in the winner’s circle after the Kentucky Derby.

‘All yours, buddy,’ Frank said, smiling.

Jeff was touched by what his friend had done. ‘Frank, it’s fantastic!’

‘’Course, anything you don’t like, we can change right away. Designer understands it’s all preliminary – you have to approve it. After all, you’re the one’s gotta work in here.’

‘Everything’s great just as it is. I’m astounded. And you can’t tell me some designer came up with the idea of that picture of Chateaugay.’

‘No,’ Frank admitted, ‘that was my suggestion. Thought you might get a kick out of it.’

‘It’ll give me inspiration.’

‘That’s what I’m counting on.’ Frank laughed. ‘Jesus, when I think how fast all this has happened, how – Well, you know what I mean.’ The moment of boyish glee was retracted as quickly as it had appeared. This whole experience was ageing Frank: the unspoken and unanswerable questions, the shockingly sudden and inexplicable success … It was all more than he could readily deal with.

‘Anyway,’ Frank said, looking away towards the empty reception area, ‘I’ve got a whole pile of stuff to take care of today. Ordered a bunch of the new office calculators from Monroe; they should have been here two days ago. So if you want to just settle in here a bit, get a feel for the place …’

‘It’s all right, Frank; you go ahead. I’d very much like to sit here and think for a while. And thanks again. You’re doing a terrific job – partner.’

They shook hands, clapped each other on the shoulder in a self-conscious gesture of camaraderie. Frank strode away towards the near-empty offices, and Jeff eased himself into the enfolding comfort of the Barcelona chair behind the massive desk.

It had all been so easy, easier even than he’d imagined. The races, the inning-by-inning replays of the World Series games … and with the huge amount of capital accumulated from those sure-thing bets, there was no limit to what he could do now, with equal or greater ease.

He’d already begun studying stock prices, reviewing what he knew of the world to come and applying that knowledge to an extrapolation of the current market situation. He couldn’t remember every dip and rise of the economy for all those years, but he was certain he had enough general insight to make consideration of minor recessions and setbacks irrelevant.

Some investments were obvious: IBM, Xerox, Polaroid. Others took a bit more thought, connecting in his mind social changes already underway or soon to come with the companies that would benefit from those changes. The rest of the decade, Jeff knew, would be a time of general prosperity, with Americans travelling widely for business or amusement; Future, Inc. should invest heavily in hotel and airline stocks. Similarly, Boeing Aircraft had to be in for a long upswing, even though the much-vaunted SST programme would soon be cancelled; the 727 and 747, neither announced yet, would become the primary commercial planes of the next twenty-five years. Other aerospace companies would have their own successes and failures, and Jeff felt sure some careful research would help jog his memory as to which had been awarded the most lucrative contracts for the Apollo programme, and, ultimately, to build the space-shuttle fleet.

He gazed down at the Hudson, thick with commerce. The Japanese auto invasion would be a long time coming, as he’d noticed on that first day, and America was near the peak of its love affair with big cars; it couldn’t hurt to put a million or so into Chrysler, GM, and Ford. RCA would probably be a good short-term choice, too, since colour television was about to become the standard, and it would be many years before Sony made its devastating inroads into that market.

Jeff closed his eyes, giddy from the potential of it all. The monthly financial crises he had once endured, the lifelong frustration of jobs with too much responsibility and too little pay, were now concerns not only of the past, but of a future that would never be. Who cared how this had come to pass? He was young, he was wealthy, and he would soon be immeasurably richer still. He had no wish to change any of that or even question it, much less go back to that other reality he had lived or perhaps imagined. Now he could have everything he’d ever wanted, and the time and energy to enjoy it all.

‘… whether the Republican nominee is Goldwater or Rockefeller. The Baker scandal is unlikely to have any serious effect on the president’s reelection bid, although a “dump Johnson” movement within the White House inner circle is a possibility if the investigation escalates much further. Of more immediate concern to the Kennedy staff will be –’

‘Can’t we watch something else?’ Sharla pouted. ‘I don’t know why you care so much about all this political stuff anyway. It’s a whole year before the next election.’

Jeff gave her an appeasing half-smile but didn’t answer.

‘… tax cut and civil-rights bills. Unless they are enacted before Congress adjourns on December twentieth, the proposals will face an even tougher uphill battle in the spring sessions of the House and Senate, and Kennedy would be forced to begin the campaign in the shadow of continued congressional battle rather than in his hoped-for aura of dual victory.’

Sharla uncurled herself from the sofa in a silent huff, walked towards the stairs that led to the upper levels of the East Seventy-third Street town house. ‘I’ll be waiting for you in bed,’ she called over her shoulder, bare in the peach-coloured filmy nightgown. ‘That is, if you’re still interested.’

‘… despite ongoing criticism of the Bay of Pigs disaster, despite bitter problems with such disparate entities as the AFL-CIO and the steel industry, the image and the man remain inseparable for the majority of the public. His windswept youthfulness, his charming wife and devoted children, the tragedies and triumphs his family has survived, the easy grace and ready sense of humour, all –’

Jeff ran back the tape on the prototype Sony VTR that had cost him over eleven thousand dollars and was doomed to failure, a product a decade ahead of its time. The black-and-white file-footage clips of John Kennedy lit the screen a second time, so familiar and yet still heart-rending: grinning in his famous rocking-chair, scooping John-John and Caroline into his arms on an airport runway, romping with his brothers on the beach at Hyannisport. So many times Jeff had seen these brief public segments of the man’s life; and always, for a quarter of a century, they had been followed by the open limousine in Dallas, the frenzied horror, the blood on Jackie’s clothes and the roses in her arms. But no such images existed now. Tonight, on this tape of a news show broadcast not two hours before, there would be no photograph of Lyndon Johnson assuming the mantle of power, no funeral cortege through Washington, no Eternal Flame at the fade-out. Tonight the man of whom they spoke was alive, vital, full of plans for his own future and that of the nation.

‘… grace and ready sense of humour, all lend at least superficial weight to the notions of a New Frontier, a fresh beginning … the advent, as some would have it, of a modern-day Camelot. It is this enormously positive image, rather than any solid record of first-term accomplishments, that the newly appointed Kennedy reelection team will have to work with. Sorensen, O’Donnell, Salinger, O’Brien, and Bobby Kennedy are all well aware of their candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and of the power of instant myths. You may be sure they know where to concentrate their attention in the upcoming campaign.’

The newscast switched to a shot of Charles de Gaulle visiting the Shah of Iran amid much pomp and circumstance, and Jeff turned off the machine. Kennedy alive, he thought, as he had thought so often in the past few weeks. Kennedy leading the nation towards who knew what – continued prosperity, racial harmony, an early disengagement from Vietnam?

John F. Kennedy alive. Until three weeks from now.

Unless, unless … what? The fantasy was irresistible, outlandish and even clichéd though it might be. But this was no television drama, no science-fiction plot; Jeff was here, in this as-yet-unshattered world of 1963, with the greatest tragedy of the era about to unfold before his too-knowing eyes. Was it possible that he might intervene, and would it be proper? He had already begun to wreak major changes in the economic realities of the time, merely by establishing the existence of Future, Inc., and the space-time continuum had not yet shown any signs of unbearable strain.

Surely, Jeff thought, there must be something he could do about the imminent assassination, short of actually confronting the killer himself in that sixth-floor room of the Texas School Book Depository on November twenty-second. A phone call to the FBI, a letter to the Secret Service? But of course no one in authority would take his warnings seriously, and even if someone did, he’d probably be arrested as a suspected conspirator.

He poured himself a drink from the wet bar by the patio entrance and considered the problem. Anyone he spoke to about it would dismiss him as a lunatic; until, that is, after the president’s motorcade had passed through Dealey Plaza, had entered and so tragically departed the killing ground. Then there’d be hell to pay, and too late to do the world a bit of good.

So what should he do, just sit back and watch the murder happen? Let history brutally repeat itself because he was afraid of appearing foolish?

Jeff looked around the tastefully appointed town house, so far superior to any residence he or Linda had ever hoped to occupy. It had taken him only six months to acquire all this, with almost no effort at all. Now he could spend a lifetime limitlessly expanding his comfort and his wealth because of what he knew; but those achievements would stick in his craw forever if he failed to act on what else he knew.

Something, somehow, must be done.

He flew to Dallas on the fifteenth, and stopped at the first phone booth he came to in the airport. He thumbed through the O’s and there it was, a listing like any other, though to his eyes the letters stood out from the page as if they had been inscribed in flames:

Oswald, Lee H … 1026 N. Beckley … 555-4821

Jeff wrote down the address, then rented a plain blue Plymouth from Avis. The girl at the counter told him how to find the part of town he was looking for.

He drove past the white frame house in Oak Cliff six times. He pictured himself walking to the door, ringing the bell, speaking to the soft-voiced young Russian woman, Marina, who would answer. What would he say to her? ‘Your husband is going to kill the president; you have to stop him’? What if the assassin himself came to the door? What would he do then?

Jeff drove slowly past the ordinary little house once more, thinking of the man who dwelt within it, who waited and plotted to shatter the world’s complacency.

He left the neighbourhood without stopping. At a K-Mart in Fort Worth he bought a cheap portable typewriter, some typing paper, and a pair of gloves. Back in his anonymous Holiday Inn room off the East Airport Expressway he put on the gloves, opened the sheaf of paper, and began composing a letter that it sickened him to write.

President John F. Kennedy

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC

President Kennedy:

It is you who have alienated Premier Fidel Castro and the liberated peoples of Cuba. You are the oppressor, the enemy of free men throughout Latin America and the world.

If you come to Dallas I will kill you. I will shoot you in the head with a high-powered rifle, and in your spilled blood will be written JUSTICE for the freedom fighters of the Western hemisphere.

This is not an idle threat. I am well armed, and prepared to die myself if need be.

I will murder you.

VENCEREMOS!!

Lee Harvey Oswald

Jeff added Oswald’s home address, drove back across town, and put the letter in a mailbox two blocks from the nondescript frame house. An hour later, and forty miles southeast of Dallas, the gloves were getting sweaty. The tightening leather numbed his hands as he pitched the typewriter off a bridge into a large lake in the middle of nowhere. It felt good to finally pull the damned gloves off, to toss them out of the car window near some godforsaken town named, of all things, Gun Barrel. His hands felt freer, cleaner.

For the next four days he stayed in his room at the Holiday Inn, speaking to no one but room service and emerging only to buy the local papers. On Tuesday, the nineteenth, the Dallas Herald had the item he’d been waiting for, on page five: Lee Harvey Oswald had been arrested by the Secret Service for threatening the life of the president, and would be held without bail until Kennedy had completed his one-day trip to Texas at the end of the week.

Jeff got very drunk on the plane back to New York that night, but the alcohol had nothing to do with the triumph he felt, the exultant thoughts that crowded his brain: images of a world in which negotiation took the place of war in Vietnam, in which the hungry were fed, racial equality attained without bloodshed … a world in which John Kennedy and the hopeful spirit of humanity would not die, but would blossom and prosper upon the earth.

As his plane landed, the lights of Manhattan seemed a brilliant portent of the glorious future Jeff had just created.

At ten minutes past one on Friday afternoon, his secretary opened the door to his office without knocking. She stood there with tears streaming down her face, unable to speak. Jeff didn’t have to ask what was wrong. He felt as if he had been struck in the gut by an invisible, heavy object.

Frank came in behind her, quietly told the young woman there’d be no more business conducted today; she and everyone else should go home. He took Jeff in tow, and they left the building together. People milled about Park Avenue in a general stupor. A few wept openly; some were gathered around car or transistor radios. Most just stared blankly ahead, putting one foot absentmindedly before the other in a slow, distracted gait wholly uncharacteristic of New Yorkers. It was as if an earthquake had loosened the solid concrete of Manhattan and no one was sure of stable footing. No one knew whether the streets would tremble and buckle again, or even split apart to swallow up the world. The future had arrived, in one jolting instant.

Frank and Jeff found a table at a hushed bar off Madison. On the television screen, Air Force One was leaving Dallas, the body of the president on board. In his mind’s eye, Jeff saw the photograph of LBJ taking his oath of office, with a dazed Jacqueline Kennedy beside him. The bloodstained dress, the roses.

‘What happens now?’ Frank asked.

Jeff tore himself from his macabre reverie. ‘What do you mean?’

‘What’s next for the world? Where do we all go from here?’

Jeff shrugged. ‘I guess a lot depends on Johnson. What kind of president he’ll make. What do you think?’

Frank shook his head. ‘You don’t “guess” anything, Jeff. I’ve never seen you make a guess. You know things.’

Jeff looked around for a waiter; they were all watching the television, listening to a young Dan Rather recapitulate the afternoon’s momentous events for the twentieth time. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘Neither do I, not exactly. But there’s something that’s … not right with you. Something odd. And I don’t like it.’

His partner’s hands were trembling, Jeff saw; he must be in bad need of a drink.

‘Frank, it’s a terrible, strange day. We’re all kind of in shock right now.’

‘You’re not. Not the way I am, and everybody else. Nobody in the office even told you what had happened; it was like they didn’t have to, like you knew what was coming.’

‘Don’t be absurd.’ A burly police official was being interviewed on TV, describing the statewide manhunt now underway in Texas.

‘What were you doing in Dallas last week?’

Jeff eyed Frank wearily. ‘What’d you do, check with the travel agency?’

‘Yeah. What were you doing there?’

‘Looking into some property for us. It’s a growth market, despite what’s happened there today.’

‘Maybe that’ll change.’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘You don’t, huh? Why not?’

‘Just a feeling I have.’

‘We’ve come a long way on these “feelings” of yours.’

‘And we can go further still.’

Frank sighed, ran his hand through his prematurely thinning hair. ‘No. Not me. I’ve had it. I want out.’

‘Jesus Christ, we’ve hardly even started!’

‘I’m sure you’ll do spectacularly well. But it’s got too weird for me, Jeff. I don’t feel comfortable working with you anymore.’

‘For God’s sake, you don’t think I had anything to do with –’

Frank held up his hand, cut him off. ‘I haven’t said that. I don’t want to know. I just want … out. You can hang on to the bulk of my share for working capital, pay me back out of profits over the next few years, or however long it takes. I’d recommend you turn my end of the operations over to Jim Spencer; he’s a good man, knows what he’s doing. And he’ll follow your instructions to the letter.’

‘Damn it, we were in this together! All the way back to the Derby, to Emory –’

‘So we were, and it’s been a hell of a streak. But I’m cashing in my chips, old partner. Walking away from the table.’

‘To do what?’

‘Finish law school, I suppose. Make some nice, conservative investments of my own; I’ve got enough to keep me set for life.’

‘Don’t do this, Frank. You’d be missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime.’

‘Of that I have no doubt. Maybe someday I’ll regret it, but right now it’s what I have to do. For my own peace of mind.’ He stood up, extended his hand. ‘Good luck, and thanks for everything. It was some fun while it lasted.’

They shook hands, Jeff wondering what he could have done to prevent this. Maybe nothing. Maybe it had to happen.

‘I’ll talk to Spencer on Monday,’ Frank said. ‘Assuming the world’s still at peace and the country’s functioning by then.’

Jeff gave him a long, sober look. ‘It will be.’

‘Good to know. Take care, partner.’

When Frank had left, Jeff moved to a stool at the bar, finally got a drink. He was on his third when CBS broke the bulletin: ‘… arrested a suspect in connection with the assassination of President Kennedy. I repeat, Dallas police have arrested a suspect in connection with the assassination of President Kennedy. The man is said to be a drifter and sometime left-wing activist named Nelson Bennett. Authorities say a telephone number found in Bennett’s pocket has been traced to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City. We’ll have more on this late-breaking story as soon as …’

The patio of the East Side town house was bleak in the late-November chill; it was a place designed for summer, in a world where summer had been banished. The glass-topped table, the polished chrome struts of the lounge chairs, somehow made this sunless day more barren still.

Jeff pulled his thick cardigan sweater tightly closed and wondered, for the hundredth time in the past two days, just what had happened on that unstoppable day in Dallas. Who the hell was Nelson Bennett? A backup hired assassin waiting in the wings when Oswald was arrested? Or merely a fluke of chance, a random crazy, manipulated by forces far more powerful than any human conspiracy in order that the flow of reality not be disrupted?

There would be no knowing, he realized. He faced enough else beyond his comprehension in this restructured life; why should this particular element be less insoluble than all the rest? And yet it mocked him, chastened him. He had tried to use his prescience to reshape destiny in a positive way, something far surpassing the triviality of his wagers, his investment schemes – and his efforts had created no more than a minor ripple in the stream of history. A killer’s name had been changed, no more.

What, he wondered, did that bode for his own future? All the hopes he had of rebuilding his life with advantage of foreknowledge … were they doomed to be mere superficial changes, quantitative but not qualitative? Would his attempts at achieving genuine happiness be as inexplicably thwarted as his intervention in the Kennedy affair? All that, too, was beyond his ken. Six weeks ago he had felt a godlike omniscience, and his potential for accomplishment had seemed without limit. Now, once more, everything was open to question. He felt a numbing sense of hopelessness worse than any he had known since boarding school, on that terrible day beside the little bridge where he’d –

‘Jeff! Oh, my God, come here! They’ve killed Bennett, it was on the TV, I saw it happen!’

He nodded slowly, followed Sharla inside. The murder was being shown again and again, as he’d known it would be. There was Jack Ruby in his B-movie gangster’s hat, appearing out of nowhere in the basement corridor of the Dallas County Jail. There was the pistol, and Nelson Bennett dying on cue, the twisted agony on his bearded face like a distorted reflection of Lee Harvey Oswald’s well-documented death.

President Johnson, Jeff knew, would soon order a full investigation of the events of this bloody weekend. A special commission, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Answers would be diligently sought; none would be found. Life would go on.

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