Chapter 1 of Shiva’s Messenger
From an elevated vantage point behind a slatted wooden fence, Jeff Thomas looked over the moderate-sized throng assembled to watch the motorcade pass. A few hands held small flags poised. Casual faces turned his way occasionally but none obtrusively watched him. Jeff scanned above to an unseasonable bright day for conducting a darkly cloaked operation. The sun filtering through the leafy canopy of a large bole tree cast mottling shadows with only his silhouette observable from the plaza below.
He cocked a cheek over his left shoulder. Further back from the concrete and stucco pergolas, no one was close. As a golfer’s on a tee-off swing, this pro’s eyes followed through to a look at his right rear angle. Cars filled the parking lot behind but the drivers and the passengers were all down below the grassy knoll on Elm Street, as a gallery to watch the procession. All here was quiet and still. Was it that time itself had hesitated, to allow a generation to gather an awareness, of where they were at this juncture?
The crowd’s attention was fixed away when he returned his gaze. They were watching where the president’s appearance was anticipated at any moment. A check of the sixth floor window of the brick Schoolbook Depository building showed it was open. That confirmed his partner was in position and ready. Jeff’s blue eyes checked his watch in a habitual manner without even noting the time. It was of no matter. The zero hour would strike soon and the world would soon remember, precisely when it had been.
Jeff took several relaxed breaths. A faint smell of creosote reminded him that railway tracks were nearby. He affixed attention onto a single point of null space slightly ahead of his eyes. The man found his zone, as he called it and he entered it with his skin tingling as if freshly scrubbed. Whenever he achieved this state, Jeff felt the most alive. His perception became so much greater than his normal state of being. His vision sharpened and time seemed to slow—or perhaps it was simply his brain was processing faster. This was the mode where he always performed his very best work.
Intently, he shifted his focus up Main Street as the presidential motorcade slowed at the corner. Like a parade of black ants moving up the shaft and onto the base of an arrowhead, the motorcycles and escort cars turned right into Dealey Plaza. Jeff fixated on the target vehicle and followed its acceleration. His eyes didn’t have to glance up. A heightened perception allowed the peripheral vision to detect a flutter in the window of his teammate bringing a carbine into position. It’s a perfect shot for Oswald now—but don’t let him shoot yet. Jeff could hit from here if he must, but waiting was better.
The president’s open-topped limousine was now pointed at the Depository building. If Jeff hadn’t been ordered to use Oswald as a co-conspirator, he would’ve been in that sixth floor window. The one shot would have already been taken and the job finished. Two shooters weren’t required for this operation. That wasn’t his call.
As the motorcade reached the junction of Houston and Elm, it slowed again to bank the left turn. This one-block detour from the obvious route was the final proof to Jeff that ‘Operation Shiva’ had not only the tacit but full approval from the highest levels of the United States government. The condemned car turned for the final time in this president’s life. It curved towards the arrow’s tip.
Quickly and smoothly, movements drilled to muscle memory, Jeff pulled his Mannlicher-Carcano firearm from its cradle under his jacket. The gunman knew the reasons or at least he believed he did. I couldn’t be better prepared for this action. Pulling the rifle butt into his shoulder, he canted his head over the weapon to bring his eye directly behind the gun sight. His index knuckle tensed on the trigger. He was aware even of the knurl ridges, like a course fingerprint in the metal. With a steady eye and finely tuned hand coordination, Jeff tracked a bead on President Kennedy’s forehead.
Oswald opened fire from the Depository but with less than half of the finesse of an amusement park duck-shoot hawker. Over the gun sight, Jeff could see a flurry of reactions in the car but he couldn’t determine if Lee’s barrage were hits. It appears he’s not struck his target: as I could’ve expected. Jeff required only his one meticulous kill shot. He squeezed the trigger with strait-blade razor professionalism that was stropped on other lives.
So finely attuned to that instant, he nearly saw the blunt tail of the bullet streaking away. John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s head recoiled sharply from the impact of a bullet on a skull. In the president’s last gleaming his crown was as a crimson corona of blood mist. Jeff felt washed pristine clean by a wave of freedom—he had never felt so completely satisfied.
The sound of my one report was likely buried in an echo of all of Oswald’s. The assassin didn’t chamber another round. The job was finished and that action would only eject the spent cartridge he would then have to retrieve. Instead, he slipped the carbine back under his coat and felt the euphoria of closure. As the man strode purposefully away, his gait betrayed no more guilt than to an expired parking meter. He retraced almost the exact steps he had taken on the way to his firing position. The gunman’s execution and attention to detail had once again been calligraphy perfect.
As he slipped behind the wheel of his car, Jeff placed the carbine into his lap with the muzzle pointing towards the rubber mat of the passenger’s seat floor. He ejected the spent brass, then inserted the single round he carried loose in his pocket. Never be caught with an empty weapon. That maxim was one he could never forget. The assassin set the gun down on the seat next to him and concealed it with his jacket.
“Now that’s a souvenir!” He stuffed the spent brass cartridge into his shirt pocket. Normally he would find a place to tuck it where it would never be found. This time I’ll keep it. The shining brass was a coin to pay all debts to both his old country and his new one.
Jeff slipped the shifter into gear and drove away using the route he had planned well in advance. Stopping only once, he deposited the incriminating weapon in the pre-arranged dumpster. Another member of the non-requested support team would be responsible for the final disposal. It was yet another complication in the plan that was neither necessary nor of his choice. The assassin was fully capable of ditching his own evidence.
Simplicity in a strategy is a thing of ultimate desirability. His plot had been exquisitely straightforward. One shooter and one shot. That’s the way it should have been. The inclusion of Oswald and these other impediments to his effortless stratagem had been requirements directly from the clients. Jeff never liked any of them.
Oswald loved the Depository sniper’s nest and wanted to use it even though his shot from there would be at a difficult angle. He bragged about his targeting skills even though the positioning for a right-handed marksman was the worst possible. The staccato of ineffectual shots Lee had fired only showed the folly of his position. The fact that Oswald had even been able to strike in the vicinity of the president was proof of his skill.
No matter, Lee Harvey Oswald was the redundant understudy. Jeff Thomas was the headliner. He had delivered his performance as a virtuoso. His lanyard tug made the curtain fall on the American President. What critic could ever mock the show?
As Jeff drove on, he pondered again whether the next stage of the plan was essential or wise. The objective was terminated and it was sure to be a momentous event in the country. Should they not just quietly disappear? What was the point of meeting up with Oswald? Why not at some later date and as far as possible from the turmoil of this historic event? Linking up on this day, in this city was more the client’s recklessness.
On thoughts of the foolhardy next stage, the hairs on Jeff’s neck bristled. A chill traveled his spine like a sword-length icicle was being stabbed down his collar. An intense shudder jerked his hands on the steering wheel and the car lurched towards the oncoming traffic. He pulled the vehicle back into lane but the effort drained the strength from his arms. Prudently, the assassin pulled over and stopped haphazardly on the side of the road.
He looked at his hands. The skin on the backs was goose-fleshy and his fingers were jittery. Why was he having this uncharacteristic body reaction? Was his subconscious telling of a detail overlooked or was it adrenaline? The odd sensation passed and he went on.
Acting on his premonition, Jeff veered off route to park four blocks away from the rendezvous point. On foot, he traversed the remainder of the way and waited at a distance to observe. If things were fine his arrival would only be delayed. He could explain that trifle away with a lie about traffic chaos owing to the event. He crouched behind a hedge and surveyed the scene.
Something definitely isn’t right. Oswald was at the bus stop on Oak Street as he was supposed to be. However, hidden on a side avenue a block from the transit stop, a black sedan sat in front of a Dallas Police cruiser. A man in a dark suit holding a radio was standing beside the police car. Another stood in an alcove where he could discreetly observe the nervous Oswald and traffic approaching in the direction Lee’s teammate was supposed to be arriving from.
The assassin watched as several pregnant moments passed. Lee anxiously fidgeted and was doubtlessly experiencing a similar trepidation about the meeting that Jeff had felt only moments ago. Unfortunately, it was too late for him to take any precautions.
The man with the car and the one in the alcove also appeared fretful. The first paced the length of the car and the latter rocked on the balls of his feet. Both were smoking one cigarette after another. Jeff could plainly deduce that the police car was positioned to follow and stop Oswald and himself after they had made their connection.
Lee impatiently consulted his wristwatch and looked up the street. He even stepped onto the asphalt to get a better view. With his nervousness apparently edging into medium panic, Lee Harvey turned to start walking away. The observer in the semi-concealed recess put his radio to his lips. This seemingly required a change of plans. The police car pulled around the sedan and wheeled the corner to slowly follow the lone conspirator.
“This paints pastel to plaid.” The observing assassin bit down hard on his teeth and pursed his lips tightly. His eyes narrowed to a squint as he focused his thoughts. Jeff and Lee were betrayed by the organizations they were serving. Unwillingly cast in the role of sacrificial goat, this performer wouldn’t follow the stage cues to the priest’s alter. “Lee Harvey Oswald is to his fates, as am I to mine.”
Jeff edged cautiously back from his concealment. He briefly considered going back to the car and then thought better of it. The vehicle was as compromised as the whole escape plan. All of his names, both real and fictitious, were also now marked. He used his well-trained and practiced skills to melt as refined sugar does in hot coffee, into the now very dangerous city of Dallas.
From a hotel room in Houston, rented under an undocumented name, the man who was no longer Jeff Thomas watched the rest of the riveting story unfold. Glued to the television, he saw Oswald gunned down while in custody by some nightclub owner.
Bullets fired into his co-conspirator carried twinges of empathy into his own belly. The entirety of his desperate situation seared his stomach lining like the shots felt in sympathy had melted in a forge. “I need to disappear into the world as if I never existed.”
The assassin closed his eyes and reviewed the scenario. As a mystery novel’s ending shows how the reader missed noting the pivotal clues, so was the assassin able to now find the obscured elements in his. The betrayers will not survive. On that thought, he monitored his emotion’s temperature. Cold would be vengeance and he would not allow himself that. The deception’s perpetrators could savor the profits but their greedy tongues would experience a bitter aftertaste. A reckoning was required but that was warm like a body.
“Amends will be made,” he spoke to his soul, “even if it takes my life and the lives of my unborn children, this I swear.”
Some say time heals all wounds and it was an assisting balm but this malady’s cure would await the invention of a new medicine.