November 13, 1963
It seemed like only a moment had passed, after closing my eyes, when sunlight was warning me to get up, if I wanted to meet Clay Shaw on time. Not wanting to be late, I quickly got dressed and waited in the lobby for my ride. At 9:30 sharp, we were on our way.
Instead of meeting at his office, we met at a restaurant on the edge of town. When I went inside, I found it completely empty, except for Clay, who was sitting at a table in a far corner. I sat down across from him, and we measured each other up. It was who Clay broke the silence.
“How have you been, Tom? You’re looking good.”
“What can I say?” I answered. “Considering what I do, I need to eat well and stay in shape.”
Clay nodded. “I’m glad to hear that. That’s why I asked you to come today. I was wondering if you were still interested in what we were discussing last time. If you have a change of heart, I need to know right now. I can completely understand if you had. No hard feelings if you wish to step down.”
“Thanks for the opening Clay, but I’ll pass. I’m in this, all the way.”
“Very well,” he said. Then he slipped me a map of downtown Dallas. “Kennedy will be in there for a fund raiser on the twenty-second. This is a map of the route the motorcade will be taking. If you look at Dealey Plaza, you’ll see they’ll be taking a sharp corner. This will be your best chance for success. If you take a position by this tree line, you’ll have a clear shot at him.”
I looked at the knoll in front of the tree line. “I’m not so sure. If I were in the Secret Service, I would post a guard right there.”
Clay smiled. “That has already been arranged. There won’t be any Secret Service in that area. Also, the limo carrying the president will have its top down. Don’t worry, Tom. We’re making this as easy as possible for you.”
“Will there be a backup plan in case I miss?”
“Again, don’t worry about it. We’ll have someone at the rail tracks. He can get a shot off or two if needed, but you’re the basket we’re putting all our eggs into.”
“Is there anything else I need to know?” I asked.
“There’s a parking lot behind the knoll, where there’s a car to make your getaway. Also, we’re having someone put a rifle in the book depository and there’ll be a so-called witness ready to say he saw someone shoot from there. We’ll lay some used cartridges up there as well as have a patsy to blame to throw the police off your scent. So, while the police are storming the book depository and chasing ghosts, you’ll be casually driving down to Houston. As for the police? They’re bought and paid for by the mafia. As for the Feds, rest assure, you’ll be the last person they’ll be searching for.”
It was cold, ruthless, and well organized. And if all went well, the plan seemed flawless. “From what you say, it sounds like the whole world has it in for Kennedy.”
“Not the whole world, Tom, just the part that wants do something about him and his communistic ways.” He slid an envelope towards me. “Here’s a round trip ticket from Chicago to Houston for the twentieth. You’ll drive from there to Dallas and set yourself up. When it’s done, you’ll return to Houston and fly out the next morning. Easy, peasy. So, Tom, any questions?”
“If I do this for you, can you get someone out of Cuba for me?”
Clay leaned back in his chair and interlaced his fingers behind his neck. “I assume you’re talking about that girlfriend of yours. What was her name? Carmen Hernandez?
Clay caught me by surprise, with his response. Still, I tried to use that to my advantage. “I’m glad you’re no stranger to my life story, but you didn’t answer the question. Can you get her out of Cuba?”
“I want to help you, Tom. I really do, but I can’t promise anything. I can tell you this, though. I have connections in Panama, and they have connections in Cuba. There is a chance we can work something out, but like I said, there are no guarantees. So, now I ask you, can you live with this?”
“I guess I have no choice.” I looked at the map, then back to Clay. “It’s a go from where I sit.”
Clay shook my hand. “Congratulations. You’re now a member of my club.”
I looked around the room and saw it was still empty. “Since our business is done, does this place serve breakfast?”
Clay gave me a sad smile. “Sorry, Tom. But there’s a place I highly recommend, just down the street. It’s called Benedict’s. If you like a Southern style breakfast, you’ll love what they serve down there. Tell Clyde, I sent you.”
I shook his hand one last time and went out the door. I went up the road for two blocks and sat down at a diner. It was a Denny’s.
November 14, 1963
If I had one strong connection in the mafia, it was my relationship with Sam Giancana, and now I was meeting with him.
“I know the plan sounds perfect,” Sam wailed. “But believe me, nothing’s perfect. When people are involved, you can never guarantee the outcome of anything. We may have the Dallas police in our back pocket, but if something should fall in their laptop, they may have no other choice but to do the right thing, which would be the wrong thing for us.”
“I hope it doesn’t come down to that,” I replied. “When you deal with anyone or anything at that high a level, alibis and excuses run out quickly.”
“Hey, Tommy Boy, take it easy. Like I said, we’ve got your back. To Shaw and the Feds, you’re nothing but a liability. But to us, you’re family. And what does family do? They protect each other. If things should go south, we’ve got you covered.”
“Honestly, Sam, I not worried about that. I know you to be a man of your word. All you had to say was I’ve got your back, and I would have been satisfied. But what worries was how fast Shaw agreed to try to get Carmen out of Cuba. It was as if he knew I was going to ask them about her. Clay gave me the impression they have already been looking into this. But what really scares me is, I know they wouldn’t do it out of the kindness of their hearts. I’m afraid they’ll try to use her to get leverage on me to do more of their dirty work. I hate to admit it, but I hope the Feds don’t find her.”
“I’ll tell you, Tommy Boy, those FED agents didn’t get the nickname Spooks for being so white. They’re soulless creatures who would sell their mothers, to get their hooks into the likes of you. Do yourself a favor. When this is done, get out of the government business side of what you do. Life ain’t worth living if you have to watch your back, wondering if your employer is going to stick a knife in it.”
“To tell the truth Sam, I’ve never thought about that before. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve only thought about how I was going take out my target and escape with my life. Nothing else.
As for my missions, Castro was the only one who survived my attack. I can’t even imagine what the world would be like if I succeeded and that’s what pains me the most.”
Sam gazed at me. “Hey Tommy Boy. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve been meaning to ask. How do you do it? How do you kill so many people and be able to look at yourself in a mirror? I know I’ve had my share of run ins with punks and had to put their lights out, but you? You must have killed hundreds and every time I see you, it’s as if you lived your life as a saint. You don’t even swear and because of that, I won’t swear around you either. You’re a good man Tommy, but you’re still scary.”
“To tell the truth, Sam, I don’t know how I do it either. Before I go out on a mission, I think about that person or the people who are close to them. Each time I ask myself, is it worth it? But when I have my target in sight, all of that disappears. All I see in front of me is an adversary who’s barely worth my time to even look at. I would take him out and that’s it. No regrets or nightmares to follow. As for the people close to him, I know I’m doing them a favor, ridding them of such a creature from their lives.
“What about me, Tommy Boy? What do you see when you look at me?”
“Honestly, when I look at you, I see a brother I never had. You’re the closest thing I have to family.”
Sam was silent, as he looked at me in wonderment. Finally, he spoke. “It touches me when you say things like that. I only hope I can live up to your expectations.”
“Don’t try too hard. Just be yourself and you’ll do fine.”
“I’m not too sure about that. If you about some of the things I’ve done in the past, you may think differently.”
“What I don’t know, won’t hurt me.”
“In that case, Tommy Boy, I hope you never find out.”
I wasn’t naïve. I knew the line of work Sam was involved with placed him on a level near mine. If anything, it brought us closer together.
When we finished, I went home and began packing for my trip to Houston.
November 21, 1963
When I arrived at Houston Intercontinental Airport, there was no fanfare, no one to greet, or escort me. I was utterly alone. I picked up a rental car and began my trek north on US 75 towards Dallas. The trip took longer than I planned due to all the road construction going on. By the time I reached downtown Dallas, the sun was about to set.
As the shadows grew longer, I drove to Love field and traced out the parade route. I figured I had time to complete this once, before to became too dark. When I completed the route, I found myself agreeing with Clay Shaw. The best place to shoot from was the fenced off parking lot by Dealey Plaza.
When I drove to the entrance of the parking lot, I discovered it had minimal security with free access. Reserved parking spots ran along the edge of the knoll and being a so-called holiday, I decided it would be safe to park there in the morning.
Minutes later, I was driving back to Denton Drive. On the back of the map Clay gave me, there was an address I had to visit. As I went further down the road, the streetlights became dimmer and fewer. Finally, I arrived at a house compressed between many. Judging by the masses of Hispanic people roaming the neighborhood and the way they were dressed I knew they there were mostly illegal immigrants.
Bravely, I walked up to the door and knocked on it, not knowing if I would be greeted by a friendly face or a bullet. When the door opened, a middle-aged Hispanic man quizzically peered at me. At that moment, I wasn’t sure if he was going to let me in or close the door on my face, but when I said, “Clay Shaw sent me,” in fluent Spanish, he relaxed.
“Ah! Clay Shaw. Si, he’s a good man. You must be Tom. I’m Palbo. I’ve been waiting for you. Come inside, my amigo. We’ve got business to take care of.”
As we walked through the house, we passed several groups of people who I assumed were poor families, living in squalor.
“Don’t worry about them,” Pablo said. “They’ve got nothing to do with us.” Then he opened a door leading down to the basement.
When we descended the stairs, I found myself in a wide-open room. Pablo went to a corner of the room and pulled a rifle out of a crate. Then, he handed it to me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. “How does Clay think I’ll be able to hit my target with this piece of garbage? Carcano infantry rifles are known to abide to Murphy’s Law.”
Pablo shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know anything about that, senor. All I know is this is what they want you to use. If you wish, you can zero it down here. The walls are thick, and no one will hear you shooting.” He pointed towards the far wall. “See, senor, down there? It’s a target. It’s twenty-five feet from this mark on the floor to the target. I know you’re used to something more luxurious, but what can I say? This’ll do in a pinch.” He handed an ammo clip to me.
This is ridiculous, I thought. If the feds are so adamant on assassinating the president, why supply me with such an antiquated weapon to carry out such a deed? I knew it was no use arguing with myself over it. Instead, I loaded the clip in the rifle and assumed the prone position. Within thirty minutes, I had zeroed the weapon.
November 22, 1963, 7:22 a.m.
As the sun began to rise, I started the car and drove back down Denton Drive. The night before, a saw a restaurant that I thought would be safe to dine in. With neighborhood filled with illegal aliens, I knew, the police, even if they tried, could never find anyone willing to talk to them about anything, including seeing me.
As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by a waitress. “Welcome to Manolo’s. My name is Carmen and I’ll be serving you today. May I get you some coffee, while you look at the menu?”
When the waitress spoke her name, my heart leaped out of my chest. I knew it wasn’t my Carmen, but when she said her name, I could help but pine for my Carmen. The moment passed and I regained my senses. “Everything on the menu looks good, but since you know it better than me, please order for me. You should know what’s best.”
She scribbled on the ticket and smiled. “Very well, sir. I’ll be right back. Enjoy your coffee, while you wait.”
A few minutes later, she returned carrying a plate with something that was not American. “Here you go, sir. This is called Huevos a la Mexicana. The cook here is well known around here for making this.”
I tried a bite and smiled. “This is delicious.” I took another bite. “Give the cook my compliments.” The waitress returned to the kitchen, as I wolfed down the rest of my meal. When I finished my coffee, I left a ten-dollar tip on the table. If nothing else went right today, at least I can say I had the best breakfast of my life.
November 22, 1963, 8:40 a.m.
By the time I returned to the parking lot at Dealey Plaza, two cars were parked next to each other by the fence, so I parked in a spot next to them. Then I opened the back door and tore out the back seat, placed the rifle in the trunk, squirrelled in afterwards, and replaced the seat, giving the car the appearance of being empty. Then, I played the waiting game.
November 22, 1963, 12:15 p.m.
As the morning dragged on, I thought I was cooking in an oven. Doubts began to flood my mind as I laid there. I thought, it’s not too late if I wanted to back out. Yes, I made be chased for the rest of my life, but so what? Chances were, I would be anyway. Life would go on and Kennedy would be voted in for a second term.
But that’s not what the world needs. If that should happen, Communism would flourish, becoming a cancer, which couldn’t be stopped. I knew I had no alternative. I stepped out of the car, ready to meet my destiny.
November 22, 1963, 12:27 p.m.
As I lay by the edge of the fence, shouts and cheers of the onlookers began to rise, as the motorcade approached. When the President’s limo came into view, I saw him waving to the crowd. Each time he turned towards me I couldn’t help but imagine he was inviting me to shoot at him. I wasn’t about to refuse his request.
Like a machine, I pressed the butt of the rifle against my shoulder and drew him in my sight. As I was about to squeeze the trigger, I heard a shot being fired. Then a moment later, there was a second. Some else was shooting at the president! I thought. As blood began to run Kennedy's neck, I began to panic. Any second now, the limo would speed off, leaving me unable to take out my target. My failure with the Castro assassination attempt was about to repeat itself.
But then, as if I were in a dream, the limo continued its slow pace. As it treaded down the road, I took aim again and readied myself. As I squeezed the trigger, the third shot rang out.