The Kennedy Connection
I MET NIKKI REYNOLDS for lunch on a summer afternoon in New York City.
We were sitting at an outdoor table of a restaurant called Gotham City, on Park Avenue South in the East 20s. The pasta she ordered cost $33. My hamburger was $26.50. The prices weren’t on the menu, though. It was the kind of place where if you had to ask the price, you didn’t belong there. Me, I didn’t care how much the lunch cost. Nikki Reynolds was paying.
Reynolds was a New York literary agent. In another lifetime, when I’d needed a literary agent, she’d been mine. But I hadn’t heard from her in a long time. So I was surprised when she called me up out of the blue and invited me to lunch.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I wanted to talk to you today,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
I always like to ask the tough questions first.
“I have an author with a new book—a nonfiction blockbuster about the John F. Kennedy assassination—that’s going to make big news,” she told me. “It’s very timely too, coming right after all the attention everyone paid to the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK killing.”
“Timely,” I said.
“The basic concept of the book is that more than a half century later, we still haven’t solved the greatest crime in our history. It’s called The Kennedy Connection. Catchy title, huh?”
“Catchy,” I agreed.
“The book will reveal shocking new information about what really happened that day in Dallas and afterward.”
“Wait a minute, let me guess,” I said. “Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t really do it, JFK really isn’t dead, and both of them are living secretly somewhere right now with Jim Morrison and Elvis.”
Reynolds sighed. “You know, everyone told me, ‘Don’t take this to Gil Malloy. He’s a smart-ass, he’s an arrogant, sarcastic son of a bitch—hell, he’s pretty much of an all-around pain in the ass.’ I keep trying to defend you, Gil. But that’s getting harder and harder to do.”
“Some days I guess I just wake up kind of cranky,” I shrugged.
Nikki Reynolds was somewhere in her fifties, but plastic surgery and Botox had taken about ten years of that off of her face. Blond, pixie hair and a tight, trim body from lots of workouts at the health club. She was wearing a navy blue pin-striped pantsuit, a pink silk blouse open at the collar, and oversized sunglasses that probably cost more than the meal we were eating. The Manhattan power broker look. She looked like she belonged at Gotham City.
I had on blue jeans, a white T-shirt that I’d washed specially for the occasion, and a New York Mets baseball cap. No one else in the restaurant was wearing blue jeans. Or a T-shirt or a baseball cap. When I’d walked in, someone at one of the tables had mistaken me for a busboy. I had a feeling—call it a crazy hunch—that I might be a tad underdressed for this place.
“Who’s the author?” I asked.
“Lee Harvey Oswald.”
I smiled. “Right.”
“No, I’m serious.”
“Lee Harvey Oswald is alive and a client of yours?”
“Lee Harvey Oswald Jr.”
“He had a son?”
I thought about that for a second.
“I don’t remember anything about Lee Harvey Oswald having a son. Didn’t he have a baby daughter or something with that Russian woman he married?”
“Oswald had two daughters with Marina, whom he married while he was living in the Soviet Union. One of them there before he returned to the U.S. Another baby girl that Marina gave birth to just a few weeks before the assassination. There’s never been any mention of a son. Until now.”
“I don’t understand . . .”
“Lee Harvey Oswald had an affair. In New Orleans where he lived in the months before he went to Dallas.”
“So you’re saying ol’ Lee Harvey was as much of a horndog as JFK, huh?” I laughed.
“The mother was a twenty-one-year-old girl who died less than a year after the assassination. The baby boy wound up being adopted. For much of his life he’s been haunted by uncertainty over what his infamous father did or didn’t do on that day in Dallas where Kennedy was killed. He finally decided to try to find out the truth. That’s why he’s written this book.”
I took a bite of my hamburger. It was okay but nothing special. At these prices? Actually, I’ve had better at McDonald’s.
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” Reynolds said.
“Just one, really.”
“You’re a newspaper reporter. I want to get some advance publicity, build up some word of mouth before the book comes out. I figured if you wrote a story now—”
“Nikki, there’s lots of newspaper reporters in this town. You could have picked any of them to talk to about all of this. Why me?”
Nikki Reynolds put her fork down and pushed her still almost full plate of pasta away. She didn’t seem to like it any more than I did my hamburger. Maybe we could both stop at a McDonald’s later for a snack.
“I think I know the answer,” I said. “I’m the only reporter in town gullible enough to fall for something like this. Maybe you wanted to go to some other reporter. Someone with a better track record than me. But, in the end, you figured Gil Malloy—whom you haven’t talked to, haven’t taken phone calls from, and couldn’t even be bothered to return messages from in a very long time—was your best choice. Because he’s easy. He doesn’t ask a lot of questions or dig very deep or spend too much time making sure a story is true. Hell, you can buy him off with a lunch.”
“C’mon, Gil . . .”
“The only problem with your plan is that the same reason you figured I might go for it . . . well, that’s why I couldn’t be of any help to you, even if I wanted to. No one is going to believe me if I start talking about someone claiming to be Lee Harvey Oswald’s secret son and solving the Kennedy assassination. People—people at my own newspaper—would say, ‘What’s next? He’s going to claim he saw Elvis at a shopping mall? Or reveal those flying saucers and little green men that the government is really hiding at Area 51?’ Hey, I’m damaged goods, Nikki. You should know that better than anyone.”
There was a long, uncomfortable silence between us. I sat there waiting, watching people go by on the street and listening to the sounds of the city. Horns honking. Car doors slamming. A radio turned up somewhere to a rap station. It was the middle of summer, and a lot of New Yorkers had already fled to the Hamptons, the mountains, or the Jersey Shore. In another few weeks, the city would be empty, which was fine with me. I remembered sitting at a restaurant just like this one a long time ago with Nikki Reynolds. Listening to her tell me how she was going to make me rich and famous. I’d believed her. That was before I found out that fame and fortune aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, as Bob Dylan once said.
“I’m sorry I never returned your phone calls after . . . well, you know,” she said finally.
“Don’t worry about it. Lots of people didn’t return my phone calls. Everyone wanted to keep their distance from me.”
“But I’m here now.”
“And bought me this lunch,” I pointed out.
“This could be a big story for you.”
“I’m already working on a story.”
“We’re talking about John F. Kennedy’s murder here.”
“Mine’s a murder story too.”
“Bigger than JFK?”
“What’s the story?”
“The murder of Victor Reyes.”
“A kid who belonged to a gang in the South Bronx.”
“Who killed him?”
“Probably someone from another gang.”
“Are you telling me that chasing after some cheap gangbang
murder in the Bronx is more important to you than maybe finding out the truth about the assassination of John F. Kennedy? The biggest unsolved crime of our lifetime. Maybe of all time. How can you even compare a murder of that magnitude to the killing of this Vincent Reyes?”
“His name was Victor Reyes, not Vincent.”
“Who the hell cares?”
“Everyone matters,” I said, quoting something I’d read in a book once. Not because I really believed it, but because I couldn’t think of any way to explain my decision to someone like Nikki Reynolds.
She wrote down Lee Harvey Oswald Jr.’s address and phone number on a piece of paper and handed it across the table to me. I looked down at the paper, shrugged, and stuck it in the pocket of my jeans.
“I really need your help on this,” Reynolds said.
“Have you checked out this guy’s story about being Lee Harvey Oswald’s illegitimate son?” I asked.
“Of course, I have.”
“Well, it’s not easy to find out about records from fifty years ago, but I’m pursuing it vigorously.”
I shook my head.
“Who’s the publisher that bought this book?”
“We don’t have a publisher yet.”
“Has he written the damn book?”
“He’s working on it . . .”
“So you have a guy who may or may not be Lee Harvey Oswald Jr., who may or may not have a book, and—even if he finishes this
supposed book—you don’t have a publisher at the moment. And now you’re asking me to put whatever few shreds are left of my professional reputation on the line to promote this for you. Does that pretty much sum up the situation here, or have I left anything out?”
She reached over and put her hand on top of mine. She looked me straight in the eye.
Earnest. Sincere. Pleading, almost desperate.
“Do it as a favor for me,” Nikki Reynolds said. “Do it as a favor to me for old times’ sake.”
It was a helluva performance. She was always very good at getting people to do what she wanted. Except I’d seen it all before.
“I gotta tell you, Nikki,” I said, “the old times weren’t that great.”